WASHINGTON -- House Republicans have agreed to a new contract to pay a private law firm up to $1.5 million to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage on the federal level.
The amount is three times the figure originally agreed upon between the House and the firm Bancroft PLLC. The original contract, drawn up in April, read, "The General Counsel agrees to pay the Contractor for all contractual services rendered a sum not to exceed $500,000.00."
A new contract, released to the press by House Democrats on Tuesday, raises that cap to $1.5 million: "The General Counsel agrees to pay the Contractor for all services to be rendered pursuant to this Agreement a sum not to exceed $750,000.00. It is further understood and agreed that, effective October 1, 2011, the aforementioned $750,000.00 cap may be raised from time to time up to, but not exceeding, $1.5 million."
The original contract contained a clause stating that if the $500,000 cap was reached before the litigation was complete, the sum could be increased. The new contract also leaves the door open to raising the cap, stating, "It is further understood and agreed that should the cap be reached before the Litigation is complete, and if the cap has not been raised under the terms of this Agreement, Contractor shall not be obliged to continue providing legal services under this Agreement."
House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) decision to have the House defend DOMA came after Attorney General Eric Holder announced in February that the administration had concluded that the law was unconstitutional and would no longer argue in support of it.
In March, a five-person House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group voted along party lines (3-2) to direct the House General Counsel to initiate a legal defense of DOMA.
Democrats quickly criticized the GOP for devoting scarce resources to defending a discriminatory law while other programs are being dramatically cut.
"It is absolutely unconscionable that Speaker Boehner is tripling the cost for his legal boondoggle to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act," said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "At a time when Americans are hurting and job creation should be the top priority, it just shows how out of touch House Republicans have become that they would spend up to $1.5 million dollars to defend discrimination in our country."
One House Democratic staffer pointed out that 23 career employees in House operations have been laid off due to budget shortfalls. House Republicans have still not explained where the money they plan to use to pay Bancroft will come from.
"The entire contracting process has lacked any semblance of transparency," said the Democratic members of the House Administration Committee in a statement on Tuesday. "Our letters of warning and our questions about how any of the numbers were reached and where the money would come from have gone unanswered. Now, we find that Speaker Boehner's hand-picked lawyers have exhausted the half-million dollars we were told would be the total cost and they need an additional $1 million dollars -- or 300% of the original contract, to continue the work."
Neither the offices of Boehner nor Bancroft returned requests for comment.
Paul Clement, a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, originally took up the case while a partner at the law firm King & Spalding. But after receiving significant public criticism from LGBT rights organizations, the firm filed a motion to withdraw its representation, arguing "the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate." Attorneys at King & Spalding have since said Clement never submitted the contract to the business review committee for approval. Clement quickly left the firm and joined Bancroft, where he continues to represent the House in the DOMA case.
"There seems to be no limit to how much taxpayer money the House Republican leadership is willing to spend to keep this discriminatory law on the books," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "At a time when budgeting is the watchword in Washington, Americans will be rightly aghast at this boondoggle for right-wing lawyers. The Defense of Marriage Act singles out same-sex couples for unfair treatment and no amount of money can overcome the fact that it flies in the face of our cherished constitutional principles."