Legal Ethics Opinion No. 1360

Appearance of Impropriety: Law Firms Contributing to Election
Campaigns or Member of Congress; Representing Clients Before the
Governing Body or Elected Official to Which Contribution Was Made

You have inquired as to the propriety of some Virginia law firms
setting up political action committees ("PACs") to contribute to
election campaigns or paying a substantial sum as an honorarium
to a member of Congress as payment for a speech.  You indicate
your assumption that some lawyers or law firms which make
campaign contributions in cash or in professional services, or
which pay sums of money beyond fair market value for speeches or
written materials, appear before the same elected official, or
the governing body of which the official is a part, on behalf of
one or more of the law firm's clients.

The appropriate and controlling Disciplinary Rule relative to
your inquiry is DR 9-l0l(C) which prohibits a lawyer from stating
or implying that he is able to influence improperly or upon
irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body, or public
official.  Further guidance is provided in Ethical Consideration
9-4 which states:

     Because the very essence of the legal system if to
     provide procedures by which matters can be presented in
     an impartial manner so that they may be decided solely
     upon the merits, any statement or suggestion by a
     lawyer that he can or would attempt to circumvent those
     procedures is detrimental to the legal system and tends
     to undermine public confidence in it.   

Although the committee is not constituted to determine any
legalities involved in either the establishment of PACs or
payments to public officials made by PACs or in the form of
honoraria, the committee directs your attention to Ethical
Consideration l-5 which exhorts that "[b]ecause of his position
in society, even minor violations of law by a lawyer may tend to
lessen public confidence in the legal profession."  Thus, should
such operations or payments be found to be violative of the law,
a lawyer should not participate in them.  In previously affirming
that it was improper for an attorney to lobby before the General
Assembly or other legislative body when a lawyer with whom he
shares a professional relationship is an elected member of that
body, the committee found that compliance with the Act regulating
the legality of such appearances would not obviate the need for
the lawyer to adhere to the ethical obligations of the legal
profession.  LEO #l278, #537, #4l9.

The committee has earlier opined that even where the existence of
a particular set of circumstances does not cause a per seviolation of DR 9-l0l(C), those circumstances may imply that the
interests of an attorney's client may be enhanced for improper
reasons.  LEO #l203.  It is the opinion of the committee that a
lawyer may not suggest or imply the ability to obtain results
through improper governmental influence or political power.  The
committee is of the further view that it is axiomatic that such
suggestion or implication alone would be improper, regardless of
whether the lawyer making such suggestion intends or attempts to
perform the act suggested and further regardless of whether the
matter's outcome is actually affected.  Mississippi Attorney v.
Mississippi State Bar, 453 So.2d l023 (l984).  Conversely, it is
the committee's view that no violation of DR 9-l0l(C) occurs
where a lawyer or law firm either creates or contributes to a PAC
or pays honoraria in excess of fair value for a legislator's
presentation or written material, but makes no suggestion or
implication to a client of an intent to improperly influence the
legislator.  In re Connaghan, 6l3 S.W.2d 626 (Mo. l98l). 

The question of whether the establishment of PACs or payment of
honoraria by lawyers or law firms is done to suggest to clients
the lawyer's intent to exert improper influence on the legislator
requires a factual determination beyond the purview of the

Committee Opinion
June 13, 1990

Related Opinions: See also LEO 1421