A New Counsel at DNC

Bauer Becomes Group’s Lawyer

Posted January 28, 2009 at 6:33pm

The Democratic National Committee has hired President Barack Obama’s top campaign lawyer, Bob Bauer, as its new outside counsel, a DNC official confirmed Wednesday. The move is the latest example of the fresh political roots that the Obama White House is planting around town.

Bauer is replacing the DNC’s longtime outside lawyer, Joe Sandler.

Bauer’s new gig adds to his firm’s already-brisk election law practice. According to CQ MoneyLine, federal political committees and candidates wrote checks to Perkins Coie totaling $5.34 million during the 2007-08 cycle.

Campaign finance records also show the president’s campaign, Obama for America, paid Bauer’s firm at least $1.4 million in legal fees last cycle — with many more invoices likely still being processed by the $770 million presidential campaign.

Bauer also is expected to be the top lawyer for the DNC’s newest in-house project: Organizing for America. Developed by former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, the new grass-roots organization will manage the presidential campaign’s valuable 13 million-plus cache of e-mail addresses and cell-phone numbers, which played a crucial role in the 44th president’s ground game in last year’s primaries and caucuses — not to mention on Election Day.

The new organization, unprecedented in its size, undoubtedly will require sophisticated lawyering to avoid the election-law pitfalls that befell Progress for America. Organized by Bush 2000 consultants, the group attempted to harness support for the then-popular president into an effective — and legal — grass-roots lobbying group, but it fell afoul of federal election law.

The Federal Election Commission two years ago assessed an affiliated group, the Progress for America Voter Fund, a $750,000 fine for failing to register as a political committee and other infractions, after the group raised nearly $45 million ahead of the 2004 election.

Bauer became a news story last spring when he famously sparred on a conference call with Howard Wolfson, then-presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign spokesman. According to published reports, Bauer telephoned into Wolfson’s daily press call to jab him over allegations that Obama’s supporters broke laws in caucus states.

The University of Virginia-trained lawyer also is the latest in a string of Obama confidants placed in strategic political roles around town, including former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a campaign adviser and Health and Human Services secretary nominee; White House adviser Pete Rouse, a one-time Senate chief of staff to Daschle and Obama; and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the new DNC chairman and previous vice presidential shortlister.

Other Obama campaign aides now at the DNC include Executive Director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and Mitch Stewart, executive director at the new grass-roots group, Organizing for America.

Bauer is married to top political consultant Anita Dunn, another high-level 2008 Obama campaign adviser. Dunn, a partner at the Washington, D.C., shop Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, is a former Daschle campaign hand — as is Bauer, who was Daschle’s Senate campaign lawyer and counsel during former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial a decade ago.

Bauer began representing then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in January 2005.

Bauer’s hire also means that the DNC is parting ways with Sandler, the committee’s general counsel from 1993 to 1998 who started his own firm a decade ago. According to campaign finance records, the DNC paid Sandler’s firm, Sandler, Reiff & Young, more than $800,000 during the 2007-08 cycle, including a $35,000 per month retainer.

“We are excited that Bob Bauer is joining the DNC and will serve as General Counsel, and are grateful for Joe Sandler’s service and look forward to his continuing involvement in the Democratic Party,” DNC spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement Wednesday.

Sandler and Bauer declined to comment for this story.