Another Big Democratic Funder Headed to the Big House

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 11:19 AM EDT

Looks like the Democratic presidential candidate, whomever it is, will be running without the deep pockets of famed plaintiff lawyer Bill Lerach. Lerach is a California securities class action lawyer whose name has struck fear in the hearts of corporate executives for years thanks to his success winning some enormous cases, including a $7 billion settlement from companies that helped Enron hide its wrongdoing.

His crusades against corporate wrongdoing have made Lerach something of a folk hero in certain quarters, and he's won friends in high places for plowing his winnings into Democratic politics. Just in 2004, Lerach's law firm donated more than $1.5 million to 527 groups like the AFL-CIO's Coalition to Defend the American Dream that worked to defeat President Bush. Before the ban on soft money, Lerach and his partner, Melvyn Weiss, donated millions of dollars to Democratic Party entities.

That reliable spigot of campaign funding is likely to dry up now that Lerach has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge stemming from a seven-year federal investigation. Prosecutors charge that Lerach and his firm paid more than $11 million to people to be plaintiffs in their shareholder lawsuits. Lerach could spend up to two years in prison as a result of his plea. Even if he gets to hang on to most of his money, it's unlikely that many candidates are going to want to take it...

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