Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunday Globe Flashback: The Firm

You ever see the Tom Cruise movie?

"Law firm ‘bonuses’ tied to political donations" by Andrea Estes and Viveca Novak Globe Staff | Center for Responsive Politics  October 29, 2016

Jon Tester didn’t come all the way from Montana for the scrambled eggs and bacon. The US senator, virtually unknown in Boston, was in a conference room at the Thornton Law Firm that June morning to cash in at one of the most reliable stops on the Democratic fund-raising circuit, a law firm that pours millions into the coffers of the party and its politicians.

Tester, a massive, jovial man who raises livestock on his family farm, was more compelling than many of the other breakfast guests, all of them political candidates the firm hoped would defend the interests of trial attorneys. But the drill was basically the same. But a striking thing happened the day Tester visited in 2010, according to a review of law firm records by the Spotlight Team and the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks campaign finance data.

Thornton, through a spokesman, said its donation reimbursement program was reviewed by outside lawyers and complied with applicable laws. Campaign finance experts said that without reviewing the firm’s records, they cannot say the payback system breaks the law, but that it raises numerous red flags.

That’s because reimbursing people for their political donations is generally illegal, several experts said. When political donors are repaid for their donations, it can conceal the real source of contributions, and enable the unnamed source of the funds to exceed state and federal contribution limits. And in some states — Massachusetts among them — political donations to state candidates from corporations and partnerships such as Thornton Law Firm are flatly illegal.

Reimbursing donors is “among the most serious campaign violations, in the view of both the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice,” said Daniel Petalas, an attorney who served as acting general counsel of the FEC until September.

“Using straw donors to make contributions is illegal,” said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center and a former general counsel of the FEC. “People can go and have gone to prison for this.”

Thornton officials declined to comment, instead hiring a former federal prosecutor to respond to the Globe’s questions.

The ex-prosecutor, Brian Kelly, said the bonuses should not have been called bonuses at all because they were paid from the lawyers’ own money. He said an accountant deducted the payments from their equity, or ownership, in the firm. When lawyers leave Thornton Law and cash in their equity, he said, their financial settlement with Thornton would be reduced by the amount of the bonuses.

Kelly provided a written statement from Michael Thornton saying that “an error made internally” led to the payments being called bonuses. Thornton said he changed the way they were labeled in 2015, several years into the program, when he discovered the mistake.

“It’s obviously not a crime to make lots of donations to politicians, and they certainly did that,” said Kelly. “But their donation program was vetted by prior counsel and an outside accountant, and the firm made every effort to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.”

However, campaign finance experts were skeptical about the system Kelly describes, saying it could allow partners to go years before repaying the firm for the bonuses. Regulators could view the bonuses as open-ended loans, they said, making them hidden, illegal donations from the firm.

“I think they need to be very careful,” said James Kahl, former deputy general counsel of the FEC. “The big red flag is monies being advanced, and the truing up doesn’t happen for many years.”

Kelly, who has given varying explanations of the reimbursement policy since first being asked about it in July, declined to provide a copy of a legal opinion that he said justified the repayment program. He also declined to say whether lawyers who left the firm were required to pay when the bonuses they received exceeded their equity in the firm.

But one thing is certain: The policy was so complicated that some lawyers at the firm didn’t understand it, said former employees. They were just happy to get their money back.

And if they couldn't understand it.... $igh!

Firm’s origins

Michael Thornton, a former Marine who served in Vietnam, made his name in the law by becoming a national leader in handling asbestos-related cases, especially those in which victims developed mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Thornton lawyers have handled thousands of such cases, made millions of dollars, and even helped to underwrite research into mesothelioma. 

I've seen the ads on TV.

But that pipeline of profits was threatened just over a decade ago when some leading politicians, including President George W. Bush, moved to limit damages in class action lawsuits and to allow the victims of asbestos exposure to file their claims for compensation directly to a national trust fund — bypassing lawyers who typically receive a third of any award.

It's called pain and $uffering.

That’s when Thornton learned the power of political donations.

The firm’s partners contributed heavily to mostly Democratic politicians who, they hoped, would thwart efforts to create the trust fund.

“If it passed, the firm would close,” said a former employee who feared retaliation if his name were used. “Hence, the beginning of the political donations.”

They gave more and more each year, from $257,300 to federal candidates and the Democratic Party in the 2003-2004 election cycle to nearly $1.1 million a decade later, according to the center — quadrupling their contributions.

Thornton is a small firm — usually 10 or fewer equity partners — but the lawyers punch well above their weight in political fund-raising.

They are ju$t punch drunk about it.

In the two-year election cycle ending in 2014, for example, lawyers at Thornton Naumes, as the firm was then called, donated more than much larger multinational firms such as Greenberg Traurig, a Miami-based law firm that claims 38 offices and 2,000 attorneys.

Over three election cycles — 2010, 2012, and 2014 — Thornton partners contributed more than $3.4 million to candidates and the party nationwide, especially Democratic Senate candidates who opposed overhauling the asbestos litigation system.

Oh, it was more like lobbying then.

Just one Republican senator has collected contributions from Thornton’s lawyers. Lindsey Graham, an idiosyncratic South Carolinian and former trial lawyer, received $62,800 over the last decade. Graham helped peel away enough GOP support in the Senate to ensure the trust fund bill’s death on Valentine’s Day 2006, according to former Senate aides.

Thornton’s lawyers were especially generous to Vice President Joe Biden, one of Washington’s strongest advocates for trial lawyers, contributing more than $78,000 to his campaigns from 2003 to 2008.

During President Obama and Biden’s reelection campaign in 2012, Michael Thornton hosted a fund-raiser for the Obama Victory Fund at his house in Cambridge, where Biden was the guest of honor. Some of the biggest donors — some Thornton partners gave $20,000 — were escorted into a private room and offered the chance to be photographed with Biden, said someone who was there. Thornton records show the lawyers were reimbursed for those donations.

Thornton declined to speak to the Globe, but he has been vocal about his support for Biden, who, as a senator, once chaired the Judiciary Committee, and twice helped block legislation that would have established the asbestos trust fund.

“Senator Biden has been a trial-lawyer advocate for many terms in the Senate,” Thornton was quoted as saying in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2008. “We represent victims; we think it’s in the best interest of our clients if they have an opportunity to go to court. Senator Biden agrees.”

Well, $ort of.

Once Michael Thornton’s willingness to raise large amounts of money became known among lawyers and politicians, the American Association for Justice, the trial lawyers’ Washington-based lobbying group, increasingly turned to the firm’s lawyers for help, even for little-known candidates running in states far from Boston.

“At first it happened every three or four months, and then it was sometimes three or four times each month,” even though the threat of asbestos litigation reform had faded, said the former employee who requested anonymity....

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I'm not saying trial lawyers aren't needed; however, maybe they should voluntarily stay out of politics. The fact is one often needs them when one has been done wrong.

Exhibit A:

"Clinton, Walsh return donations from Boston law firm" by Andrea Estes, John R. Ellement and Viveca Novak Globe Staff | Center for Responsive Politics  October 31, 2016

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Hillary Clinton on Monday joined a growing number of politicians vowing to return thousands of dollars in donations from the Thornton Law Firm after a pattern of questionable campaign contributions. Meanwhile, US Senator Elizabeth Warren promised to give her donations back if investigators find they’re illegal.

As if the Wikileaks weren't bad enough, more illegal campaign loot.

So far, at least 13 politicians from around the country, including eight candidates for US Senate, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, have said they will return more than $250,000 in total donations from Thornton, a major fund-raiser for the Democratic party nationally.

Huh. 

A report by the Globe Spotlight Team and the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics on Sunday found that the firm gave its attorneys hundreds of bonuses that matched their political donations, a legally dubious practice that prompted calls for state and federal investigations.

A Clinton campaign official said she would return the donations she’s received to the US Treasury rather than giving the money back to the law firm. The official didn’t say how much, but Center for Responsive Politics records show that Clinton has received at least $20,000 from lawyers at Thornton and their spouses during her presidential campaign.

She gave it to the government? Not a women's group or anything? Wow.

Walsh said his campaign staff is reviewing the tens of thousands of dollars in donations his campaigns have received from Thornton lawyers over the years, but will immediately return more than $15,000 received this year.

“We’re reviewing everything,” said Walsh in an interview.

I'd say Tito just found an opening, but he has his own problems now.

Governor Charlie Baker, along with the Republican Party and a conservative think tank, called on federal and state campaign finance watchdogs to investigate more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the firm’s lawyers....

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It's just rank rot political corruption in Bo$ton, i$n't it?

Of course, giving back the money makes everything all right, right?

"Federal prosecutors launch probe of law firm over donations" by Andrea Estes and Viveca Novak Globe Staff | Center for Responsive Politics  November 16, 2016

Federal prosecutors in Boston have opened a grand jury investigation into potentially illegal campaign contributions from lawyers at the Thornton Law Firm, a leading donor to Democrats around the country, according to two people familiar with the probe.

The US attorney’s office is one of three agencies now looking into the Boston-based personal injury firm’s practice of reimbursing its partners for millions of dollars in political donations, according to the two people. The law firm has insisted that the donations were legal, but, soon after the Globe revealed the firm’s practice, politicians began returning hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.

Federal prosecutors as well as state and federal campaign finance regulators are investigating whether Thornton and its lawyers violated the law by paying “bonuses” to firm partners in the exact amount of their political donations and often on the same day, the people familiar with the investigations said. The firm’s attorney acknowledges the payments went on for a decade.

Repaying donors for their contributions is generally illegal because it conceals the true source of the donations. The donors would be considered “straw donors” — or front men — and would allow the entity to vastly exceed campaign donation limits.

Brian Kelly, a former federal prosecutor who is representing Thornton Law, would not comment on “the existence of any investigations,” but said in a statement that the firm “intends to cooperate fully if asked about its donation program and it is confident the firm complied with all applicable laws and regulations.

“Thornton’s fund-raising program was vetted by an outside law firm 10 years ago and was overseen by an outside accountant,” wrote Kelly, a partner at Nixon Peabody. He said the reimbursements came out of each lawyer’s own equity — or ownership — in the firm.

If the grand jury indicts the firm and its lawyers, Thornton could be the biggest so-called “straw donor” case ever brought nationwide. Between 2010 and 2014 alone, lawyers for the firm, which specializes in asbestos cases, donated $3.4 million to candidates and the Democratic Party, especially to Senate candidates who opposed overhauling the asbestos litigation system. 

I'm seeing a book and movie already.

“There are serious penalties for these violations,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington, D.C. “Here you potentially have multiple violations of the prohibition on contributions in the name of another, each one of which would be separately charged.”

Violations involving straw donations of $25,000 or more could bring a sentence of five years in prison for each count, Kappel said.

I doubt it will come to THAT!

Two years ago, the former CEO of the Fiesta Bowl, John Junker, and four others pleaded guilty to a straw donor scheme in which employees were reimbursed more than $45,000 for political contributions they were encouraged to make. Junker served four months in federal prison and four months in a halfway house.

The largest civil penalties ever levied by the FEC for straw donations came in the late 1990s when Audiovox Corp. and a number of individuals were fined $849,000 for a series of contributions as small as a few hundred dollars. However, companies have sometimes paid millions in penalties to settle criminal charges.

The reported grand jury investigation comes just two weeks after the Globe and the Center for Responsive Politics documented that three partners at the firm — founder Michael Thornton, former House assistant majority leader Garrett Bradley, and David Strouss — received about $1.4 million in bonuses to offset their campaign contributions over a five-year period. In at least 30 cases, Thornton was also reimbursed for donations made by his wife, Amy, based on a review of internal payroll records obtained by the Globe and the Center.

The firm started offering bonuses to offset partners’ political donations at a time when the partners were being asked to donate more and more money, causing some grumbling. The reimbursement policy was so complicated that some lawyers at the firm said they didn’t understand it, but they were still happy to get their money back.

Since the Globe story ran, at least 19 candidates and one campaign committee announced that they have returned more than $900,000 to lawyers at the firm, or gave the money to the US Treasury, or a charity. They include Hillary Clinton, Senator Edward Markey, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Joseph Kennedy III, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who called for investigations of the firm, also returned donations she received from Thornton lawyers.

One of the biggest recipients of Thornton’s largesse, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on Tuesday night that it, too, was giving up contributions from partners at the firm. Previously, committee officials had indicated they were awaiting a review of the donations by its attorneys, but a person at the committee said the organization has sent $267,000 to Treasury. However, records show that contributions from Thornton employees to the committee over the last 10 years total $1.5 million.

Campaign finance specialists say that Thornton attorneys could face charges for violating a variety of state and federal laws, including the Federal Election Campaign Act’s prohibitions on “contributions in the name of another.” Thornton lawyers could also face allegations that they illegally caused candidates receiving their money to file false campaign finance reports by indicating that the lawyers were the sources of the funds, when it was actually the firm.

In addition, the specialists said, Thornton lawyers who participated in the contribution reimbursement system could be charged with conspiracy.

Bite your tongue!

A campaign finance watchdog group filed a complaint against Thornton with the Federal Election Commission on Nov. 2, a step that automatically triggers an FEC review. However, prosecutors could ask the FEC to hold off on any investigation, and the agency could pick it up again after the criminal case is over and then seek to impose civil penalties, according to Dan Petalas, a former acting general counsel of the FEC who is now in private practice in Washington.

That could wreck the firm.

The Mass. Office of Campaign and Political Finance is also looking into whether the law firm was the “true source” of the more than $260,000 in donations to state and local politicians lawyers at Thornton Law firm have made, according to two people briefed on the matter. If the regulators find wrongdoing, they can impose penalties, called civil forfeitures, or refer the matter to the state attorney general for possible criminal prosecution.

This is getting $eriou$.

This case has the potential to be the largest straw donor investigation in state history. 

And nation!

The biggest civil forfeiture in recent years was $185,000 paid last month by Canton businessman Vincent Barletta, who provided $35,500 to employees to make political contributions. In 2015, the owners of Capitol Waste of East Boston, a trash company with contracts with Boston and other communities, agreed to pay $120,000 to the state and four cities after the state agency found the owners gave employees $38,000 to donate to political candidates.

Politics is literally garbage!

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"Critics hit law firms’ bills after class-action lawsuits" by Andrea Estes Globe Staff  December 17, 2016

The sworn statement by Garrett Bradley — until recently an assistant House majority leader on Beacon Hill — raises troubling questions about the way Thornton and the other firms that brought the State Street lawsuit tallied legal costs to justify their enormous $75.8 million payday.

A spokesman for the lead law firm in the case acknowledged that hourly rates the firms listed for staff attorneys were above the lawyers’ actual wages, but argued that, essentially, everyone does it.

OMG!! 

(Cue music)

Diana Pisciotta, spokeswoman for the Labaton Sucharow law firm in New York City, called it “commonly accepted practice throughout the legal community.”

THEFT through BILL PADDING is a commonly accepted practice in the legal community. 

No kidding!?

Critics of the way lawyers are paid in class-action lawsuits acknowledge that firms often dramatically mark up the rates of their lower-paid attorneys when seeking legal fees in court, but they say Thornton has pushed the practice to an extreme.

“This happens all the time,” said Ted Frank, a lawyer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington and a leading national critic of legal fees in class-action lawsuits. “Lawyers pad their bills with overstated hourly work to make their fee request seem less of a windfall.”

Lawyers in class-action lawsuits commonly receive a major share of any settlement because they are taking the risk that, if they lose, they will be paid nothing.

In fact, plaintiffs in the State Street case, many of them public pension funds, agreed in advance to set aside a quarter of any settlement for attorneys in their lawsuit alleging that the Boston-based bank routinely overcharged clients for their foreign currency exchanges, costing them more than $1 billion.

Look, I'm glad they took on the bank but.... ?

But, to actually collect the money, lawyers document their costs by filing affidavits under penalty of perjury.

The accounting must be based on actual time records, listing the names and hourly rates of the lawyers who worked on the case, and the total amount billed. The hourly rate is supposed to be what the lawyer would charge a paying client for similar work, including the lawyer’s salary and a markup for office costs and other expenses.

That’s where, critics of contingency fee lawsuits say, lawyers have a built-in opportunity to inflate their bills. And, for a variety of reasons, their bills often get little scrutiny.

“Imagine you’re a lawyer and you’re allowed to write your own check for your fee,” explained Lester Brickman, a Yeshiva University law professor and author of “Lawyer Barons: What Their Contingency Fees Really Cost America.”

Or politicians who can give themselves a raise

And they wonder why Americans are furious? 

Or maybe they don't. Maybe it never, ever crosses their mind.

“I could write $3,000, but I could add a zero and write $30,000 or add two zeroes and charge $300,000,” Brickman said. “That’s the honor system.”

No honor here.

Thornton officials insist that they did nothing wrong and that the 23 staff attorneys who actually work for Labaton or a firm in San Francisco belonged on Thornton’s list....

Delu$ional.

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"Firms profited from Garrett Bradley’s ties" by Andrea Estes Globe Staff  January 28, 2017

Thomas J. O’Brien is an unlikely magnet for campaign contributions from high-powered attorneys in Manhattan and downtown Boston. The Plymouth County treasurer works in a sleepy branch of government that has little impact outside his county.

Yet, since 2007, lawyers from the Thornton Law Firm in Boston and Labaton Sucharow of New York City have given $100,000 to O’Brien’s political campaigns, accounting for almost half of all the donations he’s received over the decade.

O’Brien’s popularity with the firms can be traced directly to the small retirement fund that, as county treasurer, he oversees. Fourteen times in the past decade, the Plymouth County retirement system has filed lawsuits on the advice of the lawyers from Labaton and Thornton, charging one corporation after another with misconduct that reduced the value of the retirement system’s investments.

The lawyers, including O’Brien’s old legislative colleague Garrett Bradley of Thornton, say they admire O’Brien because he stands up to corporate mismanagement. But Plymouth’s serial lawsuits have benefited the lawyers vastly more than retirees and employees in Plymouth County. Court records show that the retirement fund has collected a grand total of $40,035 from all the lawsuits combined while the lawyers have received 1,000 times that amount: $41.4 million.

Can you run those numbers by me again?

It can be hard to persuade pension fund managers to lead class action lawsuits when, in the end, they’ll often receive just a token payment — the lawyers may take 25 percent or more of any settlement while the pension fund that leads the suit must split the remaining money with thousands of other investors.

Drawing on his political connections, Bradley essentially works as a salesman for Labaton, a nationally known securities litigation firm. His job is to line up public and union pension funds willing to serve as plaintiffs in lawsuits that the Labaton lawyers come up with by analyzing the stock market. 

It's a whole indu$try, huh?

Bradley “drums up business, he gets the work,” explained Brian Kelly, a former federal prosecutor hired by Thornton Law Firm to answer Globe questions. “He and (Michael) Thornton are the two rainmakers.”

Aaaaah, different film!

Since Bradley began generating business for Labaton in 2004, the firm has filed more than 100 cases on behalf of Massachusetts pension systems such as those in Plymouth and Norfolk counties, the City of Boston, and the biggest one of all, the state pension fund known as PRIM. Along the way, Bradley asked Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh — when he was a legislator and union leader — to introduce him to union pension leaders, according to a person with firsthand knowledge. Bradley hired another legislative colleague to help build ties to Cambridge pension officials, state records show. 

Is this part of the investigation into union muscle being used in Bo$ton that was being conducted by Ortiz and Obama?

And Bradley has freely used campaign donations to reward pension fund allies, such as O’Brien, whose former legislative district is just a few miles from Bradley’s home in Hingham. The two men still talk frequently on the phone, a Thornton spokesman acknowledged.

O’Brien said his county’s decision to join so many Labaton lawsuits has nothing to do with political favors. He said he sees it as his duty to help expose corporate wrongdoing — even if the lawsuits don’t bring significant payments to Plymouth.

Yeah, what a $elf-$erving $aint!

“We believe that we have an obligation to protect the interest of our members and retirees against illegal corporate behavior,” O’Brien said in an e-mailed response to Globe questions.

Officials at Thornton and Labaton say they, too, have done nothing wrong in supporting public officials they agree with, but Bradley’s willingness to use his political connections to promote Labaton has led him to ethically murky territory.

Bradley cultivated close political and personal ties to then-Treasurer Tim Cahill at a time when Cahill was overseeing the state pension fund, PRIM, and Labaton was trying to get its business. Cahill also employed two of Bradley’s relatives at the Treasury....

HOW GROTE$QUE!

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No Civil Action there!

"A federal judge is the latest to scrutinize Thornton Law" by Andrea Estes Globe Staff  February 07, 2017

A federal judge plans to appoint a special master to investigate whether prominent law firms in Boston and other cities padded their legal bills by millions in a class-action lawsuit against State Street Bank, saying the lawyers may have to pay up to $2 million, in advance, to fund the investigation.

In the unusual move, US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf said he wants a former federal judge to review legal bills submitted by Thornton Law Firm of Boston, Labaton Sucharow of New York, and seven other firms to justify the fees they received from the case last year.

Wolf cited a Globe Spotlight Team report showing that the firms claimed stratospheric legal costs for dozens of usually lower-paid attorneys who worked on the case, including the brother of Thornton managing partner Garrett Bradley. Michael Bradley often makes $53 an hour as a court-appointed attorney, but Thornton listed his hourly rate as $500. The firms already have admitted double counting numerous lawyers’ hours in filings to Wolf.

Judge Wolf’s order means more trouble for Thornton, which is already under federal criminal investigation into its massive political donations program. The alleged multimillion-dollar “straw donor” scheme, disclosed by the Spotlight team in October, prompted Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and many other top Democrats to return money from Thornton.

The inquiry ordered by Wolf would focus on Thornton’s lucrative partnership with Labaton Sucharow in which Thornton often finds potential legal clients for the much bigger New York firm. Labaton was the lead law firm in the State Street case, which alleged that the bank was overcharging clients in foreign currency trades.... 

The banks are back to their old tricks, and isn't the lawsuit looking kind of ironic now?

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"Boston law firm could be charged on donations" by Andrea Estes and Viveca Novak Globe Staff and Center for Responsive Politics  March 03, 2017

The allegations, if proven, would make this one of the largest reimbursement cases in US history, if not the largest — both in terms of the total amount of money involved and the length of time over which the scheme was carried out, said Brett Kappel, an election law expert at Akerman LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm.

“To have something like this go on for years, with many candidates and committees, is very unusual,’’ Kappel said. “It undermines faith in the campaign finance system.”

Like we had faith in it, ha-ha-ha-ha!!

Sullivan’s agency, along with the US Attorney and the Federal Election Commission, launched probes of Thornton’s campaign contributions last fall after the Globe and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics revealed the firm’s longstanding practice of reimbursing partners for political donations. The reimbursement program helped Thornton become a leading supporter of the Democratic Party nationally, as its partners gave millions over a decade. 

This comes after Obama is gone!!

Thornton Law Firm’s lawyers have insisted the reimbursement system was legal, since the lawyers were being repaid out of their equity — or ownership — in the firm. At a hearing before Sullivan Wednesday, a private accountant argued that the reimbursements — recorded as “bonuses” in the law firm’s payroll records — were actually deducted from each partner’s “capital account” at the firm.

Then why is everyone $hedding the dough?

Brian Kelly, Thornton Law’s attorney, said it “would be inappropriate for us to comment on an ongoing review.” But in November Kelly told the Globe:

“The Thornton Law Firm has done nothing wrong, and it consulted with an outside law firm and accountant 10 years ago when its political donation program — involving the personal funds of equity partners only — was implemented.”

Campaign finance experts said disguising the real source of campaign contributions is a serious offense, misleading the public and potentially allowing hidden donors to greatly exceed donation limits. 

Rotten to the core!

So far, at least 30 committees or politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and many other top Democrats, have returned more than $1 million, based on a review of campaign finance records.

Most senators and members of Congress returned the money to the US Treasury rather than giving it back to Thornton. Local and state candidates refunded money directly to the donors, or gave an equivalent amount to local charities.

That makes everything okay.

Among Massachusetts members of Congress who received a large number of donations from Thornton lawyers, only Michael Capuano and William Keating so far have not returned them. A spokeswoman for Capuano said on Wednesday that he will donate money to the MBTA “to boost ridership on the Fairmount (commuter rail) Line,” wrote spokeswoman Jan Harrington in an e-mail.

They have been waiting a while.

A spokeswoman for Keating said that he will not return the more than $30,000 he received from Thornton lawyers unless it is “determined that the donations were illegal.”

Some other politicians and committees that have received substantial funding from Thornton partners over the years — such as Senators Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — have not returned the contributions.

Thornton Law now faces scrutiny on multiple fronts, the most serious of which is a federal grand jury that is hearing evidence on possible violations of federal campaign laws.

Federal prosecutors want to know whether the Thornton reimbursement program was intended to encourage political giving from lawyers. The firm’s lawyers have insisted the donations were voluntary.

What if you said no?

At the state level, campaign finance regulators’ investigation was constrained by a three-year statute of limitations on violations.

Oh, the clock going to run out?

As a result, they only reviewed donations made between 2013 and 2016, a period in which Thornton lawyers and their spouses made more than $175,000 in donations.

The hearing on Wednesday gave Thornton Law Firm an opportunity to argue against a criminal referral. Individual partners and their spouses have also been offered a chance to appear before Sullivan, although no other hearings have been held so far.

A spokesman said the political finance office has no deadline for making a referral except that charges need to be filed before the three-year statute of limitations expires....

And when is that again?

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Did you see all the Democrats now distancing themselves (sign of guilt)?

Healey hands Thornton Law case to independent prosecutor

Wasn't she one of the state AGs criticizing Sessions? 

HA-HA-HA-HA!

Thornton Law case shouldn’t be dropped

I didn't know they were considering it.

Thornton Law, others to pay $2m for probe of their bills

Yes, just kickback, 'er, payback the money and everything's fine.

(cue the piano again)