Chris Christie-Patton Boggs Contract Shows Disturbing Trend

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in one of his first major acts in office, killed the NJ-NY Hudson River Tunnel Project that had already been agreed to and would have brought much needed transportation congestion relief as well as billions in long term Federal construction spending, and related job creation, for his state. Christie said New Jersey could not afford to participate. As a result of Christie’s breach of the agreement and withdrawal, the Federal government, via the FTA, formally noticed demand for losses and expenses in the amount of $271 million dollars that resulted.

Christie, of course, doesn’t want to honor the government’s loss claim any more than he does the tunnel agreement. So Christie has hired the ultra high dollar white shoe Washington DC power law firm Patton Boggs to fight the claim:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he’s approved the selection of the high-powered Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs.

A Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak defended the hire, saying “We’re much better off using a firm like this than using our own in-house attorneys or attorneys general. Not to knock their expertise, but let’s face it, that’s what these attorneys [at Patton Boggs] do for a living.”

Drewniak said the firm would be charging $485 an hour. He wasn’t sure where the money to pay that rate would come from — only that it would be found. “There are always contingencies for every agency of government for conducting legal affairs,” he said. “Everybody has to budget money.”

Patton Boggs is listed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit group that tracks influence in Washington, as the nation’s top lobbyist over the last twelve years, with about $400 million in billings since 1998. Its clients include Walmart, several health-care related companies and local governments.

Only $485.00/hr. for a high powered firm like Patton Boggs, the kind of firm where senior level counsel regularly charge $800-$1,000 an hour, looks pretty reasonable on the surface doesn’t it? Looks like Christie actually negotiated a pretty fair deal on outside lawyers, if he is not going to use any of the hundreds of state attorneys he already has on the payroll, doesn’t it? Well, not so much.

$485 an hour for a firm like Patton Boggs means they are using “blended rate” on their RFP response. They put in an estimate that shows a small number of partner hours at $800+, and large number of low level associate and paralegal hours at much lower rates.

After they get the contract, there will be lots more partner hours billed than in the estimate. The final bill will be a multiple of the estimated bill in the RFP.

This is how big white shoe law firms, with huge and expensive overhead, compete with small firms who legitimately charge less than $500 an hour for partner time on governmental contracts. It is a scam that was invented so politicians can funnel lucrative steady contract money to big powerful supporters and the big firms can siphon money from government coffers.

In the old days, the government would set a maximum “government rate” per hour they were willing to pay, and the big firms would not touch the work. Mid sized and smaller law firms specializing in such work, manned by ex-prosecutors and other government lawyer types who still wanted to do “public good work” would open boutique firms that charged less than 1/2 the per hour rate for senior attorneys the big firms could and would get these assignments because the big firms wouldn’t take the government rate. These firms often consisted of attorneys with substantial federal agency or DOJ experience, wanting to actually do more than get rich, and gave the taxpayers a far better deal, and just as good, if not far better, results because the firm was not beholden to Washington DC masters and political and lobbying affiliations.

So, if past practice in such situations is prologue, Chris Christie’s contract with Patton Boggs is not only questionable because the State of New Jersey has plenty of capable attorneys already on its payroll, it is also far from the reasonable deal it is being pitched as.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

49 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Your analysis is exactly right. I have seen blended rates yield two other outcomes that are highly favorable to the firm. It could be the rate charged for all hours billed, regardless of which level lawyer or assistant does the work. The firm takes a hit when the big boys bill hours; it generates huge profits when lower paid staff bill them. It could also be the floor, not the ceiling, for hourly rates.

    Even as an estimate of the average net cost per hour for all personnel, and as you say, it is a simple for the firm to claim changed circumstances, yielding a much higher effective average rate in practice.

    Should it succeed, it would be common to charge a “success” fee that considerably increases the average hourly cost. Success, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. It could mean winning on all points, or winning on only a few of them, regardless of cost savings to the client. And let’s not forget charges for “out-of-pocket costs” that, like a car dealer’s service charges, can yield considerable profit, too.

    All in, it’s a fixed game if both sides wink and nod and agree to play it that way. One thing to watch for will be PB’s “assistance”, direct or indirect, in raising funds Mr. Christie wants for any other political purpose, such as, say, running for higher political office.

  2. tjbs says:

    He must not be a very competent leader if he doesn’t have lawyers on staff that can handle the state’s business.

    Who are these unproductive drones on the state payroll ?

    • bobschacht says:

      But, haven’t you heard? Government is BAD. Private companies are GOOD. You can’t trust these complicated suits to government lawyers. And besides, they don’t have enough staff because we gotta shrink the size of government, donchaknow!

      Bob in AZ

    • watajob says:

      So, which one of his inner circle has financial ties to this law firm? Hmmm … Well, don’t worry. The press will sniff out the corrupt … I can’t even type those words with a straight face.

    • lsls says:

      Maybe he’s getting ready to create a smaller government…He seems dense to me and sort of schlumpy charisma there at all.

  3. SirLurksAlot says:

    trying to come up with something besides scathing ad-hominen attacks on Christie, but am failing. I know his record will speak for himself, but how (HOW?) does someone like him get elected in the first place?

    He’s repulsive in the 1st degree. New Joisey has dropped a few notches in my score book, and that’s saying something.

  4. eCAHNomics says:

    Fast burn. The head of estates & trusts at Dewey Ballantine was my lawyer for my will contest for awhile (the whole soap opera lasted from 1987-1992). I experienced it all.

    To my lasting credit & chuckles, I stiffed DB completely. Never paid them a penny. Hint: they lost important papers they were trustee of in their move from Wall St. to 6th Ave, so had they tried to collect, we coulduv embarrassed them in court. They chose not to try. Copies of the papers existed, so the substance was moot.

  5. MadDog says:

    Pardon my OT, but as we have our own inhouse attorney present, perhaps I can get him to render an opinion for this OT commentary.

    The ACLU this past Friday posted FOIA documents it received “for records related to the U.S. government’s implementation of the invasive FISA Amendments Act (FAA) surveillance power.”

    I’ve been reading them off and on through the weekend and one document in particular in my mind rises to the surface.

    It is the “FAA Training Video Transcript” (19 page PDF) of a National Security Agency Office of General Counsel attorney providing training on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

    Here are some of the quotes that I found to be important or significant in my mind:

    1. From Page 2 – which seems to be an outline of the presentation:

    …President’s response — Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) 6
    Communications providers were vulnerable 6
    Congressional response — The Protect America Act of 2007 6…

    (My Bold)

    Pardon my IANAL usage of a legal term here, but this seems to be a direct “admission against interests” by the NSA that communication providers had indeed provided assistance in running the TSP.

    Now we all have assumed just that, even intuitively known just that, but remember in the NSA Spying legal cases pursued by the EFF, the US government pointedly and repeatedly refused to even acknowledge this truth of US communication providers participation and hid this fact behind a legalese “no comment” shield of State Secrets Privilege.

    2. From Page 3:

    Carrier protection

    The FAA, the FISA Amendments Act also has a second part. I’m not
    going to talk about it much (because it doesn’t apply to your day to day
    work) but you should know about it. It gave liability protection for US
    telecommunications companies as well as some technical changes to the
    old part of FISA. I won’t go into any of that…

    (Their Bold)

    The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (which Obama voted for as a then sitting Senator), gave “retroactive immunity” for the past actions of these “vulnerable” communication providers.

    What folks may not remember or not even know, is that FISA Amendments Act of 2008 also gave “prospective immunity” going forward into the foreseeable future so these same “vulnerable” communication providers could continue to participate with the NSA in driftnet surveillance of US communications.

    3. From Page 8:

    …OK, FAA is a long statute. This is a copy of it, it’s about 160 pages. I encourage you to read it„but I’ll tell you it is not easy to understand, I am a lawyer, I’ve been doing this a while, and it’s not easy for me to understand. The important things you need to take away from this are as follows:

    What FAA did, like PAA before it, was offer a means whereby the AG and DNI can authorize the targeting of people reasonably believed to be non-US persons outside of the United States, and they don’t need individualized court orders to do so. So, instead they have to make these certifications, these broad authorizations…

    (Again, Their Bold)

    The simplest translation of the above paragraph is the US government no longer has to get “individualized court orders” for individual phone numbers or individual email addresses but instead now can collect and massively surveil US communications “in bulk”. A la driftnetting!

    4. From Page 8 again:

    FAA Section 702 Certifications state:


    …2. Another thing that we have to certify is that there are procedures in place to prevent the intentional acquisition of completely domestic communications, which is completely reasonable. Once again, if you’re supposed to be targeting people outside the United States you should have that…

    (Title Heading Their Bold, and then My Bold in paragraph 2)

    Remember the NSA’s phrase of “to prevent the intentional acquisition of completely domestic communications”! It will have an “interesting” meaning in the next item!

    5. Again Page 8 from the Outline item b. in the left margin provided by NSA’s ADET (Associate Directorate for Education and Training):

    …b. Court looks at
    procedures in place
    to handle US person
    information that
    might be gathered…

    (My Bold)

    Might be? Might be? Stay tuned for how “might” becomes “does!”

    6. And on Page 9, here it is:

    …The court has to look at the minimization procedures governing handling US person information gathered pursuant to the certification. Although court orders are not going to be issued for each individual target, the court is going to look at the procedures for handling the US person information that we are going to get and make a judgment that they are suitable for the targeting being done…

    (My Bold)

    Notice that the NSA is no longer hedging about the US person information they are going to get by using the word “might”. They be getting US person information, and they have no doubt about it!

    And that brings to a close my “OT commentary” since almost the entire rest of the NSA’s FISA Amendments Act Training Video Transcript is…redacted, of course! *g*

    • lsls says:

      Isn’t “US person” also the same as a corporation these days? That is, an individual and a corporation are considered the same by the SCOTUS… Targeting entire corporations as a US Person. I’m being confusing but IANAL.

      • MadDog says:

        Actually, you are quite correct!

        In fact, the document dump I referenced, includes documents where the US government explicitly defines US persons to include US corporations.

        See the 5th slide on Page 2 of this 5 page PDF:

        …FISA (Traditional & 702)
        “U.S. Person”

        • Citizen of the United States
        • Permanent Resident Alien (Green Card)
        • An association with members composed
        substantially of US citizens of permanent
        resident aliens.
        • A corporation incorporated in the US,
        except a foreign power

        (My Bold)

        • jackie says:

          US person?
          ‘An association with members composed
          substantially of US citizens of permanent
          resident aliens.’

          • jackie says:

            .. I also had trouble with internet.. for an hr, I only had access to the Lakes plain/backup? site. FB, Yahoo, fox etc! nope FF nor Exp could find any page..

  6. joanneleon says:

    Christie cited projected cost overruns as the main reason why he killed the tunnel project, created a tunnel to nowhere and bought a $271 million hole in the ground. He used his own estimates when claiming that the cost would be much more than the estimate.

    And now, he’s creating a situation where NJ will have to pay much more than the estimated cost for the outside legal firm? In other words, there will almost certainly be a cost overrun?

    Most astounding hypocrisy from Gov. WreckingBall Christie, destroyer of my state, hypocrite-in-chief, highly despised by school children all across the state.

    • dustbunny44 says:

      That’s what shouts out to me in this situation: the brush-off answer that says there’s always money out there, we can find it, we can budget it.
      That’s absolutely true (and another way that government is different from your and my households).
      And it absolutely applies to the construction project too – they could have found the money and done it, and they chose not to (despite the difference in degree of funding, the processes still apply).
      They’re saying this was a political decision, not a financial one.

  7. BillyP says:

    He wasn’t sure where the money to pay that rate would come from — only that it would be found.

    Christie will pay for it by breaking the teachers union and bringing in scabs to teach “law and order” in the schools.

  8. ShotoJamf says:

    This is how big white shoe law firms, with huge and expensive overhead, compete with small firms

    Same as for big accounting firms. A total scam, made even worse by the fact that the staff doing the actual work are treated like nothing so much as slave labor. Sweatshop by any other name…

  9. gordonot says:

    Wow, bmaz, thinks for lifting the curtain a bit here.

    So there’s a freeze on federal pay now, right?

  10. bridgettepl says:

    I think the other thing that needs to be discussed is why New Jersey should be allowed to breach a contract at all without paying the consequences. That would set a dangerous precedent unless Christie could show absolutely that the contract was unfair in some manner, which is doubtful in the extreme. I think that we’re seeing the point where the ‘us vs. them’ mentality of the political environment is just going to cause more and more damage to this nation until it collapses entirely.

    Christie should not be allowed to hire anyone outside the government, nor should he be allowed to get away with abrogating a contract without paying for doing so. I’m tired of the government being in collusion with business instead of protecting us from it.

    Welcome to 1820- forty more years til the Civil War.

    • mattcarmody says:

      Oiling mine up and sighting them in just waiting for the chance to get back some semblance of what this country once meant to everybody not just a spiteful, greedy minority.

  11. Knoxville says:

    Thanks for this post. The scam you mention should get more attention: “It is a scam that was invented so politicians can funnel lucrative steady contract money to big powerful supporters and the big firms can siphon money from government coffers.” Christie’s such a POS. It’s hard to believe that the people of NJ aren’t ready to get a forklift to physically remove him from office. (Sorry for the shot at his weight, but I’m starting to get angry just looking at him.)

    • liberaldem says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Christie isn’t paving the way for his transition to Patton-Boggs should his political career take what would be a well-deserved nose-dive.

    • gesneri says:

      If only we could, I would pay the cost of the forklift out of my own pocket. It’s well known that he fancies himself as Republican candidate for President in 2012, or 2016 at at the latest, and every single thing he does is to establish his bona fides as a “reasonable teabagger”, acceptable to that small portion of the Republican party that recoils from true insanity while still appealing to the lunatic fringe.

  12. MadDog says:

    Jackie, I don’t know if you are on Comcast, but I am and they had/have a total “screw the pooch” outage.

    When I called the local Comcast number (20+ times over the course of the last hour), all I got was a busy signal. Still is at this very moment.

    When I managed to locate a toll-free Comcast number, the automated system informed me that Comcast was experiencing an outage at my location (Hah!) and I needn’t bother to report it.

    Right now, I’m still unable to ping, and the access here at FDL makes watching grass grow seem fast. Edit: Finally able to get a response to my ping, but everything here at FDL is still molasses.

    If you are not on Comcast, then my suspicions are aroused. With the US government going after all things cyber regarding Wikileaks, I wonder if the nerds in the basement at the NSA have been playing cyberwarfare and screwing with the US DNS servers.

    • jackie says:

      I’m on Comcast, so it looks like their problem, but I wonder how big the outage is and why I can get here and no-where else? :)

  13. rosalind says:

    another OT: KenInNY over at Howie’s place has a post up on a subject near & dear to the Wheelies: “Remember when the Obama administration was going to remake the federal judiciary? (Hey, quit laughing!)”

    Remember when the Obama Hope and Change Caravan pulled into the Mall in DC in January 2008, and real hope and change seemed possible? One of the loonies’ rawest terrors…was the opportunity open to the new administration to remake the federal judiciary, given the unprecedented number of vacant seats all through the system. Why, even the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, for so long the private preserve of Jesse Helms, had enough vacancies to be brought back into the land of the legally sane.

    And then it turned out that not only did the new administration leave all those Bush regime U.S. attorneys in place…the White House lacked the conviction, or guts, or something to fight for its people, and often seemed to be apologizing for them.

    • bobschacht says:

      Did you miss the diaries bmaz wrote about this? He’s been all over it, mingled with disgust and outrage.

      Sorry, I’m working from memory here, and don’t have the links handy. But it was bmaz, writing right here at the Wheel House.

      Bob in AZ

  14. MadDog says:


    I’m in Saint Paul, Minnesota, so it looks like it is a massive Comcast “screw the pooch” outage.

    I can intermittently get to Google, but I can’t get to any of the Google services like News or Map. At this moment, I can’t even get to Google.

    Ping to Google, is also only working intermittently.

    I’m still going with my tinfoil hat conspiracy theory of NSA trolls toasting the US DNS servers as part of the US government cyberwar on Wikileaks.

    Can’t seem to get anywhere other than FDL at the moment and that’s still molasses-slow.

    • rosalind says:

      Can’t seem to get anywhere other than FDL at the moment and that’s still molasses-slow.

      in the days leading up to the Thursday night CA outage my toobz were also molasses-slow, fwiw.

      • MadDog says:

        Must’ve been those basement-dwelling NSA trolls practicing on the Left Coast before they decided to have some fun with us Midwestern Comcast fly-over-landers.

    • MadDog says:

      …I’m still going with my tinfoil hat conspiracy theory of NSA trolls toasting the US DNS servers as part of the US government cyberwar on Wikileaks…

      This report from IEEE Spectrum probably means I should keep my tinfoil hat near at hand and perhaps even get myself a tinfoil umbrelly:

      …News reports are coming out of Chicago this morning of another Comcast Internet outage once again caused by problems with its DNS servers. This is the second major Internet outage in little over a week…

      And from that 2nd link:

      The cable company Comcast suffered a major Internet outage affecting a large swath of the US East Coast from Virginia to New Hampshire last night from about 2020 to 1120 EST. The problem apparently involved Comcast’s Domain Name Servers (DNS), according to Rob Pegoraro in his Fast Forward blog in the Washington Post

      Mark my words, the Obama Administration has declared all-out cyberwar on Wikileaks, and has been and is twisting arms all across cyberspace.

  15. MadDog says:

    For all the Comcast folks in the Midwest, here’s what a Google News search on Comcast is showing:

    Comcast Internet outage affecting Chicago
    Chicago Breaking News – Tribune (blog) – ‎40 minutes ago‎
    Comcast officials have confirmed a widespread Internet service outage affecting Chicago, Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan tonight. …
    Comcast Internet outage affects Indiana, Michigan Chicago Sun-Times
    Comcast Internet outage affects Minneapolis-St. Paul Minneapolis Star Tribune
    Comcast Down in Midwestern United States Erictric

    • jackie says:

      I’m in lowish’ MI so that is a huge outage.. But if internet(Comcast) is down, how can I get here?

  16. MadDog says:


    Lowish’ MI and EW is in southwest lowish’ MI though I don’t know if Comcast is her provider.

    Just guessing, but I would think that the reason you and I can even get here is that Comcast is basically running a very minimal set of servers/routers/network circuits, so that all of their Midwest customers are being squeezed through a straw-sized pipe.

    It’s kind of like the reverse of drinking from a firehose. *g*

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