Summary: Thornton Law is being investigated for giving their partners bonuses matching the amount made for political donations.
Thornton Law Firm has been caught by the Spotlight Team and the Center for Responsive Politics in a scheme tied to political donations. A review of law firm records found an unusual pattern of payments in which 280 of the contributions paid by the partners exactly matched bonuses paid back to them within 10 days of their contribution.
Partner David C. Strouss received a “bonus” for $2,400, the same amount he contributed to Jon Tester’s campaign in Montana. Partner Garrett Bradley received a $2,400 “bonus” just a few days later that matched his donation to Tester’s campaign. This trend of contributions replaced by bonus payments just days later was common at Thornton.
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The Boston Globe reported, “From 2010 through 2014, Strouss and Bradley along with founding partner Michael Thornton and his wife donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic party fundraising committees and a parade of politicians from Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada to Hawaii gubernatorial candidate David Ige to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.”
Sen. Warren has now agreed to return roughly $130,000 in donations to her and her PAC, despite resisting the request at first. The money received was from Boston-based Thornton Law Firm, a law firm known for asbestos plaintiff’s litigation.
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An investigation into the law firm found that paid $1.4 million in the form of bonuses but were in patterns that suggested they were to cover “straw donations” that were made from partners. The Boston Globe continued, “Over the same span, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as “bonuses” in Thornton Law Firm records; more than 280 of the contributions precisely matched bonuses that were paid within 10 days.”
The system helped Thornton in their political rankings. The article explains, “That payback system, which involved other partners as well, helped make Thornton the 11th-ranked law firm nationally for political contributions in 2014, according to data analyzed by the Center, even though the firm is not among the 100 biggest in Massachusetts, much less the U.S.”
The investigation is still being conducted but as attorney Daniel Petalas of the general counsel of the Federal Election Commission explains, “reimbursing donors is among the most serious campaign violations, in the view of both the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice.”
Thornton Law claims the money was improperly labeled as “bonuses” because the payments came out of the partners’ equity. They claim the “bonuses” were paid from the lawyers’ own money with an accountant deducting the payments from their ownership in the firm.
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To learn more about political donation guidelines, read Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Corporate Political Contributions.