WASHINGTON – George W. Bush's rising political fortunes provided a windfall for the law firm of Harriet Miers (search).
Campaign records show Bush's Texas gubernatorial campaigns paid Miers a total of $163,000 in legal fees, most of it for work done during the future president's 1998 re-election bid.
Some senators are planning to explore Miers' legal work for Bush during her confirmation process to be the newest Supreme Court justice, but the White House says it won't release any memos detailing that work.
"I think people across the country recognize the importance of attorney-client privilege," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search).
Reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission show that two payments of $70,000 were made to Miers' Locke, Purnell, Rain and Harrell firm in Dallas within a month of each other during the 1998 campaign. Another $16,000 in payments were made between March and December 1999.
The 1998 totals dwarfed the $7,000 Bush paid Miers' firm during his first run for governor in 1994, and are extremely large for campaign legal work in Texas, an expert said.
"I'm baffled," said Randall B. Wood, a partner in the Austin firm of Ray, Wood and Bonilla, and former director of Common Cause of Texas. "I've never seen that kind of money spent on a campaign lawyer. It's unprecedented."
The amount received by Locke, Purnell for the 1998 Texas race approaches the national tab for the 2004 Bush presidential re-election campaign, when at least $191,000 was spent on lawyers, Federal Election Commission records show.
In 2000, the Bush presidential campaign spent about $365,000 on legal services, the records show.
The Associated Press reviewed Texas records between 1993 and 2000, although detailed reports weren't available for the last half of 1995. A state commission spokeswoman said the panel had planned to retain all of the records because of their historic significance when Bush became president, but some were misplaced.
Dana Perrino, a White House spokeswoman, said the legal fees to Miers' firm were for routine campaign work, but declined to be more specific. Presidential aides declined to say whether Miers ever worked on researching Bush's past, such as his military record.
A spokeswoman for Locke, Liddell & Sapp — the firm created when Miers' office merged with another Dallas law firm — said it wouldn't provide details on the payments, citing attorney-client privilege.
Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro (search), a Democrat who was defeated handily by Bush in the 1998 campaign, said both the amount and the timing of the payments are curious. In late September, when Miers' firm received the first of two $70,000 payments, Mauro said he trailed Bush in the polls by 35 points.
"If they're spending that kind of money," said Mauro, now an Austin attorney who estimates he spent less than $20,000 on legal fees during the campaign, "they're spending it to protect themselves from something."
A spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (search) of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the panel plans to explore the legal work done by Miers' firm for Bush.
A questionnaire sent out last week by Leahy and Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the committee, has asked Miers to "explain how you will resolve any conflicts that may arise by virtue of your service in the Bush Administration, as George W. Bush's personal lawyer, or as the lawyer for George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns."
Miers provided answers to the questionnaire earlier this week, but lawmakers rejected her answers as too vague.