Texas law firm touting abortion aid backs governors asking for bans

Texas’ largest law firm Vinson & Elkins pledges to cover travel costs for its employees for reproductive health care after contributing to two Republican governors’ campaigns pushing for tough restrictions on abortion .

The Houston-based company’s political action committee gave Texas Governor Greg Abbott $65,000 over the past two years, according to state filings. The company’s PAC donated directly to Abbott’s campaign and PACs associated with the governor, who faces an increasingly tight re-election race in November.

Vinson & Elkins said following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that she would cover the cost of employee travel out of state for abortions. This includes in Texas, where a new state law signed by Abbott has largely banned abortions and targets those who help residents access medical services.

The company also paid $20,000 to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin as part of his successful 2021 bid for governor. Youngkin said he wants to pass a law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

That leaves Vinson & Elkins in an increasingly common position for large companies that have long sought to remain apolitical: on opposite ends of a burning issue that has potential consequences for its employees and customers.

“The challenge is when you get to basic issues like human rights,” said law firm consultant Kent Zimmermann. “The question is whether companies and law firms can play both sides successfully. Companies and law firms are in a very difficult position in this regard.

Vinson & Elkins, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on political contributions.

At least a quarter of the nation’s 100 largest law firms said they would cover reproductive health-related travel costs for employees in states where new abortion restrictions take effect. Many large companies have also made similar commitments.

Vinson & Elkins has 12 offices, including three outposts in Texas and one in Richmond, Virginia. The company reported more than $912 million in gross revenue and $3.5 million in average earnings per partner last year, according to data compiled by the U.S. attorney.

The company “will provide, as part of its health plan, a travel allowance for covered health care services that are not available locally,” a spokesperson said.

According to Zimmermann, the move reflects the “growing recognition” among firms that taking a stance on social issues provides a competitive advantage in retaining clients and lawyers, especially those of younger generations.

The contributions to Abbott and Youngkin highlight the competing interests at play. The company gave money to candidates on both sides of the aisle, including Sylvester Turner, the Democratic mayor of Houston.

Texas heavyweights for Abbott

Vinson & Elkins is not unlike some of its political spending peers in Texas, a state long controlled by Republicans.

Jackson Walker, Norton Rose and Hunton Andrews Kurth, all of whom have large offices in Texas, have donated varying amounts to Abbott and other Texas candidates. Baker Botts, another large Texas firm, has focused its PAC spending largely on candidates for state court judgeships.

Neither company has publicly stated whether they will follow Vinson’s lead in covering travel costs for out-of-state abortions.

“For a large law firm that might have significant interests before the state, with the state, and/or before the courts, a large political contribution if nothing else buys some access if and when it is needed,” said Joshua M. Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It does not guarantee a result. But these law firms can justify this as part of the service they provide to clients. »

Hunton has donated $165,000 each to Abbott and Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R) since 2015, according to data from Transparency USA, a nonpartisan organization that tracks state-level political spending. Norton Rose’s PAC has donated $150,000 to Abbott since 2015, while Jackson Walker has donated $20,000 to the governor.

Vinson & Elkins donated $137,500 to Abbott during the same period.

None of the company’s PACs appear to have made any contribution to the campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat challenging Abbott in the November election. Abbott holds a six-point lead over O’Rourke among likely voters, up from an 11-point margin in April, according to a June poll by the University of Texas.

The state has not had a Democratic governor in nearly three decades.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on promises by the law firm and other employers to cover out-of-state travel for abortions.

Life Beyond the Lone Star

Founded in 1917 during an oil boom, Vinson & Elkins has built a reputation as a powerful Texas law firm with a leading energy practice.

More recently, the company has struggled to establish itself as a viable player beyond the Lone Star State. It has doubled its staff in New York – where two of its four top executives are based – over the past five years to more than 100 lawyers. Vinson & Elkins also has offices in California, Washington, London, and Tokyo, among others.

Firm leaders said in a March interview that they wanted to grow to 1,000 lawyers, which would represent a more than 40% increase in headcount. They will try to do so in a recruitment market in which lawyers have more mobility than ever and increasingly want to know what the firms stand for, according to Zimmermann.

“The talented lawyers who can practice anywhere, more of them will gravitate towards places where they want to live and more of them will want to live where there are more human rights than fewer,” he said. -he declares.

Meghan Tribe contributed to the report.

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