ABA task force proposes “pay to play' practice ban

A divided American Bar Association (ABA) task force has proposed that lawyers who make campaign contributions to government officials be banned for two years from advising them.

The radical proposal is one of a series of measures proposed by the task force to combat the practice of “pay to play”, where lawyers allegedly secure government work by making campaign contributions to officials.

The ABA's ruling council will vote on the plan this Tuesday at the ABA conference in Toronto. But the issue is so divisive – just six out of the 12 task force members were in favour of the ban – that the council may defer a decision.

Although the task force unanimously agreed to urge local Bar councils to require lawyers and firms to disclose contributions publicly, the members in favour of the ban said merely condemning the practice and changing the ABA's moral rules would not bring an end to the problem.

“We six members support the proposed prescriptive rule in an effort to eliminate the difficult burden of proving a quid pro quo,” said task force chair and Ford Motor Company general counsel, John Martin.

Arthur Levitt, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, welcomed the plan. He said: “Martin and his colleagues have bravely proposed measures to reform practices that some members of the bar have bitterly resisted even discussing. The question now is, “How determined are lawyers to bring this unseemly practice to an end?' We now look to the ABA House of Delegates to answer this at its meeting in August.”

The task force examined lawyer and litigant contributions to judicial campaigns, suggesting greater public disclosure by judicial candidates of money they receive from lawyers and firms. It also urged the ABA to amend some of its ethical rules, including the model code of judicial conduct requiring judges to withdraw from hearing a case when one side has made a campaign contribution and the lawyer for an opposing side calls for such a withdrawal.