April 20, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Pelosi presses GOP on DOMA defense contract

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday stepped up the pressure on Republican leadership to answer questions about cost and transparency over the recently signed contact allowing a private attorney to assist with defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

In an April 20 letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Pelosi says questions remained unanswered about hiring Paul Clement, an attorney with King & Spalding, to help the House general counsel with defending DOMA in court because Democratic lawmakers weren’t informed of negotiations prior to the contract signing.

“Since Democratic members were excluded from all negotiations, I would appreciate your providing the following information concerning the contract’s transparency, cost, the discount and the restrictions placed upon King and Spalding’s vast lobbying practice,” Pelosi writes.

On Tuesday, the House contract with Clement was made public, revealing that House general counsel Kerry Kircher has hired the private attorney to assist with defending DOMA for a total sum that could reach $500,000 and at a blended rate of $520 an hour.

Among Pelosi’s inquiries is whether King & Spalding won the contract after a bidding process or if the selection of the firm was made as a sole source contract. The Democratic leader also asks how the $520 an hour rate for Clement was determined and the total possible sum of $500,000 for his work.

On Feb. 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that President Obama determined DOMA was unconstitutional and that the Justice Department would no longer defend the anti-gay law against litigation in court. Following a 3-2 party-line vote in March by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Council, Boehner directed the House general counsel to take up defense of DOMA in place of the administration.

In response to the letter, Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, said he hopes Pelosi’s concern over DOMA defense costs means she’ll back the speaker’s call to redirect funds from the Justice Department to Congress to pay for the House defense of DOMA.

“The minority leader’s new-found concern for saving taxpayers money is encouraging,” Steel said. “We hope it means we can count on her support for reducing DOJ’s budget to recoup any costs incurred by the House so that taxpayers will bear no added cost for the administration’s refusal to defend the laws of the United States.”

The full text of letter of the letter follows:

April 20, 2011

The Honorable John A. Boehner
Speaker of the House
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

The release of the contract between the House of Representatives and the law firm of King and Spalding concerning litigation on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) raises many questions.  While the Democratic Members of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) opposed the decision of the Republican Members to authorize involvement in the DOMA lawsuits, that opposition in no way diminished the need for normal oversight of the terms of any contract signed by the Republican Leadership obligating the House of Representatives to pay half a million dollars of taxpayer money for private attorneys.  Yet the Democratic representatives on the BLAG, and the Democratic members of the Committee on House Administration, were provided with no information about the contract prior to or, at the time of, its being signed on April 14th. Since Democratic members were excluded from all negotiations, I would appreciate your providing the following information concerning the contract’s transparency, cost, the discount and the restrictions placed upon King and Spalding’s vast lobbying practice:

TRANSPARENCY

Did the BLAG or any House entity issue a call for bids, or was the selection of King and Spalding made as a sole source contract?  Who specifically made the decision to hire this firm, and what criteria were used?  Why was the Democratic membership of the Committee on House Administration not informed of the ongoing negotiations with King and Spalding and provided an opportunity to participate in order to assure a transparent process to prevent taxpayer dollars from being wasted?

COST

How was the $520 dollar an hour “blended rate” for attorneys negotiated, and how was the $500,000 fee established?  Was there a determination that $500,000 would be sufficient to pay for the complete legal representation in the 12 pending cases, and if so, who made that determination and how?  Is $520 an hour the regular rate normally charged by King and Spalding attorneys?  What are the specific hourly rates that will be charged by each of the King and Spalding attorneys listed in section 5 of the contract?  Is it anticipated that King and Spalding will represent the House in all 12 pending DOMA cases from the trial stage through any and all appeals?

DISCOUNT AND ETHICS

The contract states that other fees may be assessed at 75% of the firm’s regular charges.  What “other fees” are contemplated, and how was the 75% rate established?  Is it the standard practice of King and Spalding to give a 25% discount for non-attorney time to all government agencies or does the discount only pertain to the House Republican leadership?  Did the Ethics Committee review the proposed contract discount to ascertain whether it complied with all House ethics rules governing the provision of gratuities to the House by a commercial entity?  If so, please provide the written opinion of the Ethics Committee.

LOBBYING

Please provide a copy of all written restrictions imposed on King and Spalding’s extensive lobbying practice to ensure that no conflicts of interest arise on behalf of its extensive list of corporate clients while that firm is employed by the House.

Thank you for your timely response to this letter and my letter of April 18th.

Best regards,

NANCY PELOSI
Democratic Leader

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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