Edwards' Fund Raisers Turn Out for Kerry

JoWealthy (search) and well-connected lawyers who fueled John Edwards' (search) upstart White House bid have given at least $7 million to John Kerry (search) since he secured the Democratic nomination, an important show of support for Edwards as Kerry weighs running mates.

Of the roughly $74 million Kerry raised in March and April, close to $1 in every $10 came from attorneys, Kerry's most recent campaign finance reports show.

Among those shifting their efforts from North Carolina Sen. Edwards to Massachusetts Sen. Kerry is Fred Baron, a Dallas-based trial lawyer who plans to raise millions for Kerry Victory '04, a joint effort of Kerry's campaign and the Democratic National Committee (search).

As one of their own — Edwards was a trial lawyer before entering the Senate in 1998 — Edwards brought many attorneys into politics for the first time, Baron said. Edwards and his finance team have helped usher virtually all of those donors over to Kerry, said Baron, who was Edwards' co-finance chairman and is now co-chairman of Kerry Victory '04.

Four years ago, lawyers helped Democratic candidate Al Gore raise money, too, but Baron says their work first for Edwards and now for Kerry has been more intense.

"I think that what we've learned over the last four years is just how much is at stake in terms of the civil justice system," Baron said, noting President Bush's goal of limiting liability for physicians, among other measures. "Whether people were motivated or not motivated during the Gore campaign, they had come off eight years where they felt that the system was working fairly well."

Attorney money can be a mixed blessing. Republicans often portray trial lawyers as greedy ambulance-chasers and Democrats as their tools. The Edwards campaign responded by saying Edwards is proud of his career as an attorney. Kerry was a prosecutor and private-practice attorney in the late 1970s and early '80s.

In all, attorneys of various kinds accounted for at least $12 million of the $106 million in contributions Kerry raised from January 2003 through last April, the most recent figures available.

Edwards raised at least $9 million from lawyers from January 2003 until he withdrew from the race in early March. He took in about $22 million total.

Early on, Edwards dwarfed Kerry and the other Democratic hopefuls in attorney donations. From January through March 2003, for example, Edwards took in roughly $4 million from lawyers, compared to just over $1 million for Kerry.

Edwards continued to lead Kerry in attorney money until last January, when Kerry won the first delegate contests.

Within days of ending his bid, Edwards urged his donors to stay active. He called at least 150 of his top fund-raisers, many of them lawyers, to Washington for a March meeting to deliver that message.

"We were told, 'Your mission is now to support Senator Kerry,"' said Boston attorney Alex MacDonald, who attended. MacDonald raised at least $600,000 for Edwards and now plans to solicit at least $250,000 for Kerry Victory '04, hoping to draw much of it at a July 5 fund-raiser Edwards plans to attend.

South Carolina lawyer John Moylan, formerly Edwards' state chairman, is also sponsoring fund-raising events for the Kerry campaign.

"I've hooked them up with as many of our trial lawyer and other donors as I've been able to reach out to," said Moylan, who believes Edwards could bring even more Southern money to Kerry as his running mate.

Attorneys give millions to both parties, but their specialties tend to make a difference in their giving. Trial lawyers are likelier to give to Democrats, while Republicans draw solidly from corporate attorneys, for example.

Of the more than $200 million Bush raised through April, lawyers gave at least $11 million. In all, attorneys gave roughly $40 million to the past and present Democratic hopefuls and Bush through April, figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show.

The United States has 1 million active attorneys, according to the American Bar Association.

Trial lawyer Gregory Bagen of Brewster, N.Y., said he starting receiving fund-raising e-mails almost daily after giving to Edwards. Since Edwards left the race, Bagen gets pitches from the Kerry campaign and pro-Democratic groups.

Bagen, busy running a small firm, limits his political activity to giving rather than raising money. He gave $2,000 to Edwards last year, and, after Edwards withdrew, $1,000 to Kerry. Bagen said that as a trial lawyer, he would support Bush's opponent no matter who it was, though he feels an affinity to Kerry as a fellow Vietnam veteran.

Still, Bagen noted on his two $500 donations to Kerry that he is a former Edwards backer.

"I wanted him to know that the people who were backing Edwards were now backing him," Bagen said.