Rep. Wynn and the Trial Lawyers

Posted September 30, 2003 at 6:12pm

Asked recently why Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) endorsed Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) for president, a leading Maryland Democrat rubbed his thumb, index and middle fingers together in the universal gesture for money.

Rather than holding any particular enthusiasm for Edwards, this party leader theorized, Wynn wanted to get in good with the trial lawyers in advance of a possible run for Senate in 2006. Edwards is himself a successful trial lawyer, and that group’s support has helped sustain his presidential bid.

Even though Edwards’ campaign has yet to fully gel, that theory is at least plausible, said one of the top Democratic operatives in the Free State.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re with the winner. It matters if you’re with the constituency you want to be hooked in with,” the operative said.

But other knowledgeable sources have their doubts.

One veteran Wynn watcher said he recently saw the Congressman speak with passion and conviction about Edwards to a business group in the state. Wynn, this observer said, appears to have an affinity for Edwards and believes that the Senator is the only presidential candidate speaking to the concerns of his middle-class, majority-black district. This person said it reminds him of 1992, when Wynn — then a state Senator competing in a tough open-seat Congressional primary — became one of the first elected officials in Maryland to endorse another Southerner for president, Bill Clinton.

One politically active attorney said Wynn has yet to reach out to trial lawyers for political support or contributions in any significant way.

“I’ve heard that rumor [about Wynn’s motives in endorsing Edwards], but I can’t believe that he’d be so naive as to think, ‘If I support your boy John Edwards, you’ll support me,’” the lawyer said.

Trial lawyers like Wynn, the attorney continued, but they also like other Democrats who are considering entering the 2006 Maryland race if five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) retires. This lawyer mentioned Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) in particular.

Wynn and Cummings, the two black House Members from Maryland, received roughly the same amount of support from lawyers in the past two cycles.

According to PoliticalMoneyLine.com, of the $83,160 Wynn received in political action committee contributions through June 30, only $2,000 came from legal interests. He got $15,500 from lawyers in the 2002 cycle, including $10,000 from the Association of Trial Lawyers.

Cummings collected $8,500 from lawyers’ PACs through June, including $5,000 from the trial lawyers, and took in $12,000 from legal interests in the previous cycle.

Wynn seemed taken aback when asked last week whether his decision to endorse Edwards had anything to do with trial lawyer money.

“Huh?” he said. “I am a trial lawyer.”

Wynn was also coy about whether he is interested in a Senate run in 2006.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Nevertheless, a range of political people in Maryland said Wynn is making no secret of his ambitions, even before the 70-year-old Sarbanes makes his intentions known. They note that, far more than any other Member of Congress from Maryland, he has also injected himself into the state’s debate over whether to allow slot machines at race tracks and tourist destinations — a sign, they say, that he is interested in reaping contributions from the powerful gaming industry.

Another clue is that Wynn is apparently already thinking about a successor. Fresh off his winning hand in the 2002 elections — when he successfully anointed a candidate for county executive in Prince George’s County, his home turf, and had ties to seven of the nine winners in the County Council election — Wynn has already talked to new Prince George’s County States Attorney Glenn Ivey (D) about running for his seat in 2006.

One published report said that Wynn and Ivey had already struck a deal, but people familiar with their discussions said that isn’t altogether true. The two apparently have had general conversations about Ivey’s interest in serving in Washington, D.C., some day, and about Wynn’s own hopes of moving up the political ladder.

Although plenty of ambitious politicians would be interested in Wynn’s seat if he was to move on, Ivey, at least at this early stage, probably would be the frontrunner. But Ivey — unlike most of Wynn’s handpicked candidates for county offices last year — is famously independent. So Wynn’s discussions with Ivey may simply be a reflection of political reality — and Ivey’s standing in the community.

Whether any or all of these Machiavellian maneuvers attributed to Wynn are really true, no one doubts that his ambitions are real.

“Get your elbows out there,” the politically active trial lawyer said. “I think he’s just trying to scare off some other people.”