May 22, 2006

Milberg Weiss gave top Democrats funding

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman
LLP, the securities class action law firm indicted last week on
fraud charges stemming from corporate lawsuits it filed, made
large political contributions almost exclusively to Democrats
since 1999, records show.

The firm and individuals there made $2.78 million in
campaign donations to Democrats since 1999 compared to about
$22,000 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics, which tracks money in politics.

Among the recipients were New York Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton, who is a possible 2008 presidential candidate, senior
New York Senator Charles Schumer and Sen. John Kerry, the
Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.

On top of the $2.78 million, lawyers in the firm made
contributions to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who
is the Democratic candidate for governor. Spitzer's office said
on Monday that he plans to return $124,455 in contributions.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's
Center for Politics, said Republicans would likely use the
donations as ammunition in the November congressional elections
and to blunt criticism about recent corruption scandals
involving Republicans.

They will target "every individual Democrat in a
competitive race in 2006 to begin with," Sabato said.

They also will mount "a P.R. offensive to make certain that
this helps to balance the Democrats' charges of a culture of
corruption that affects only Republicans," he said.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group,
compiled information about the law firm's campaign
contributions at the request of Reuters.

The Democratic National Committee was one of the primary
beneficiaries, receiving almost half the money, $1.28 million.
Most of that was from the firm itself and included $500,000 for
the DNC's new headquarters.

"We are looking into the matter," said DNC spokeswoman
Stacie Paxton.

Milberg Weiss and two partners, David Bershad and Steven
Schulman, were indicted last week on 20 counts of perjury,
bribery and obstruction of justice. They were accused of
illegally paying clients to act as plaintiffs in lawsuits
against corporations.

The firm and the two lawyers have called the charges

President George W. Bush campaigned to limit the kinds of
lawsuits filed by Milberg Weiss, and the Republican-controlled
Congress last year passed a law that seeks to curb class-action
lawsuits by shifting them to federal courts from state courts
and linking attorneys' fees with the payouts for clients.

Class-action cases allow plaintiffs to combine claims into
one suit against a common defendant. Democrats have defended
the suits as a way for consumers to hold multi-billion
corporations accountable.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and her political action committee
received almost $24,000 in contributions from individuals at
Milberg Weiss since 1999, according to the data.

"We will not be taking any action at this stage," Clinton's
spokeswoman Ann Lewis said in an e-mail.

Schumer received $57,750 from individuals at the firm. His
spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

The House and Senate Democratic campaign committees
received $440,365 and $350,650 respectively from the firm and
individuals there since 1999, the data showed.

Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP once reached number
six in 2002 on the Center for Responsive Politics top 20 list
of law firms and lobbyists that were contributors to lawmakers
and political parties since 1999.

President Bush received $2,000 during the 2004 campaign in
individual donations within the firm but his Democratic rival,
Sen. Kerry, received $54,900 in individual contributions, the
Center found.

Republicans and Democrats have returned more than $200,000
in contributions from clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who
pleaded guilty in January in a wide-ranging investigation into
possible attempts to bribe lawmakers.

(Additional reporting by Herb Lash in New York)