City law firms back candidates, hope for business
Because both of this year's gubernatorial candidates come from Allegheny County, there's a sense of optimism in Pittsburgh's legal and business communities that no matter who wins the election this November, the new governor will spread the legal work -- and the wealth -- to the western part of the state.
During eight years of a governorship with strong Philadelphia ties, many Pittsburgh lawyers quietly envied the benefits Philadelphia and many of its law firms received from Gov. Ed Rendell's administration-- benefits, they say, that came at the expense of the Steel City.
And while no one has suggested either candidate would automatically hand out state work to Pittsburgh firms, several attorneys expressed a general excitement of having someone in the governor's mansion who isn't closely connected to the Philadelphia community.
Both Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, the Democratic candidate, and Pennsylvania's GOP Attorney General Tom Corbett have their share of supporters from Pittsburgh law firms and lawyers, according to campaign finance reports.
K&L Gates Chairman Peter Kalis drew a sports analogy: He said having someone wear black and gold in the governor's mansion is "far overdue."
Mr. Kalis, his firm and several of its lawyers donated more than $25,000 mainly to the Onorato campaign.
Jeffrey Letwin of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis in Pittsburgh is counsel to the Onorato campaign. His firm has offices in both of the state's largest cities. Speaking for himself and not as a representative of the campaign, Mr. Letwin said the Pittsburgh legal and business community would view a Pittsburgh governor as one certainly more attuned to the western part of the state.
"I don't think they're going to necessarily treat one side of the state more favorably than the other side of the state," he said. "They are all elected statewide."
But there is a lot of work to be done in the greater Pittsburgh area, Mr. Letwin said, and having someone from the area as governor is viewed as a positive. He pointed to Pittsburgh airport losing its status as a hub for US Airways to Philadelphia.
"We do think that a statewide strategy for progressing air service during US Air's bankruptcy would have been more beneficial to Pittsburgh than the position we are in," Mr. Letwin said. "I think a candidate from the western side of the state recognizes the issues that are created by [that] loss."
The law firm Tucker Arensberg and some of its attorneys have donated largely to Mr. Corbett's campaign. J. Kent Culley, treasurer of Tucker Arensberg's political action committee, said being excited about a governor from Pittsburgh is one thing and expecting work is quite another.
Ballard Spahr Chairman Arthur Makadon agrees. His firm, the former home of Mr. Rendell, is viewed by many as the biggest beneficiary of state work over the last eight years.
"It's not a question of if it trickles to the western part of the state," Mr. Makadon said. "There's a certain amount of work we do no matter who the governor is, and depending on who the governor is, there's additional work. It comes and it goes and it comes back."
While Mr. Rendell has been in office, Mr. Makadon has told his attorneys not to expect work from the governor and not to build it into the budget.
"Anything you get from the state is extra and we don't build it into anything," he said.
The money earned from state work "pales in comparison" to the opportunities that work creates, he said. Mr. Makadon pointed to the public-private partnership experience the firm gained in representing the state in negotiations for leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private owner.
That was the best work Ballard Spahr got from the commonwealth because it allowed the firm, in a heated environment, to sharpen its skills in a burgeoning practice area, he said. But in order to get that work, you have to have a certain level of expertise already in place, he said.
"If firms in the western part of the state are licking their chops, then so be it, but we're not worried about it," Mr. Makadon said. "And I seriously doubt if any high quality firm in Pittsburgh feels any differently about it than I would."
A lack of concern doesn't mean a lack of donations.
Ballard Spahr has given at least one $25,000 donation to Mr. Onorato, an ally of Mr. Rendell's. Partner John Estey, Mr. Rendell's former chief of staff, gave more than $20,000 to Mr. Onorato. Other Ballard Spahr partners have donated as well.
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney CEO John A. Barbour is co-chairman of Mr. Corbett's campaign, and his firm has been a big supporter of the campaign financially.
Mr. Barbour said his focus right now has been on getting someone elected, not the work to come out of it.
"I absolutely have not even thought about whether Western Pennsylvania is better off with Tom or Dan versus how [it is] now," Mr. Barbour said.
Often contributors will give to both campaigns in order to hedge their bets. There is the added factor for the Pittsburgh community in this race that if Mr. Onorato loses, he is still the county executive, some attorneys have said.
A number of attorneys from Jones Day in Pittsburgh gave contributions to Mr. Corbett. The attorney general is a close family friend of office managing partner Laura Ellsworth. Thorp Reed gave $10,000 to Mr. Corbett and about half that to Mr. Onorato. Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott gave a little more to Mr. Corbett than to Mr. Onorato. Cohen & Grigsby gave at least $10,000 to Mr. Corbett's campaign.
Fox Rothschild, Pepper Hamilton and Duane Morris each have offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and all three have made political donations, according to campaign finance reports. Duane Morris' government relations arm PAC gave more than $60,000 to Mr. Corbett. Pepper Hamilton and its attorneys gave more than $10,000 to Mr. Corbett and a smaller amount to Mr. Onorato. Fox Rothschild gave at least $7,500 to Mr. Onorato.
Campbell & Levine gave $10,000 to Mr. Onorato. O'Brien Rulis & Bochicchio gave $12,000 to Mr. Onorato and partner Christopher Rulis gave $5,000 to Mr. Corbett. The Chartwell Law Offices, with locations across the state, gave nearly $15,000 to Mr. Corbett and $1,000 to Mr. Onorato. Campbell Durrant Beatty Palombo & Miller gave $7,500 to Mr. Onorato.
Philadelphia and Harrisburg firms aren't sitting on the sidelines. Cozen O'Connor and some of its leadership has largely supported Mr. Onorato, but Republican partner David Girard-diCarlo and firm founder Patrick J. O'Connor have each given sizeable donations to Mr. Corbett.
Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel and partner Louis Kupperman have given several donations to Mr. Corbett totaling more than $30,000.
Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young gave $1,000 to Mr. Onorato's campaign and nearly $50,000 to Mr. Corbett.
Berger & Montague attorneys Daniel Berger and H. Laddie Montague Jr. have each given thousands to both campaigns. Blank Rome, its managing partner, Carl M. Buchholz, and members of its government relations subsidiary have given largely to Mr. Corbett.
Dilworth Paxson and its attorneys gave more than $20,000 to Mr. Corbett. Saul Ewing gave about $14,500 to Mr. Corbett's campaign and around $10,000 to Mr. Onorato. Elliott Greenleaf & Siedzikowski attorneys gave at least $15,000 to Mr. Corbett.
Richard Sand of Sand & Saidel in Philadelphia contributed $27,000 to Mr. Corbett. Barroway Topaz Kessler Meltzer & Check donated $15,000 to Mr. Onorato.
In Harrisburg, Rhoads & Sinon and its attorneys have been big financial supporters of Mr. Corbett's, as has McNees Wallace & Nurick and Thomas Thomas & Hafer. Hartman Underhill & Brubaker in Lancaster, contributed more than $20,000 to Mr. Corbett's campaign.
The contribution figures do not include the latest campaign finance reports because those breakdowns are not yet available.
First Published October 11, 2010 12:00 am