By ERIC EYRE
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Washington, D.C., firm partly owned by the wife of West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey lobbies on Capitol Hill for Planned Parenthood, a group Morrisey and other Republicans have routinely used as a political punching bag.
Denise Henry Morrisey holds the second-largest ownership stake in Capitol Counsel, a high-powered lobbying shop that has represented Planned Parenthood’s opposition to federal legislation designed to defund the organization and prohibit taxpayer-funded abortions, federal records show. Last week, the U.S. House passed a bill that scraps the Affordable Care Act and defunds Planned Parenthood for a year.
In March, Capitol Counsel also represented Planned Parenthood in lobbying against the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to lobbying disclosures. A month earlier, Patrick Morrisey led a group of 20 GOP state attorneys general who sent a letter to the Senate urging Gorsuch’s confirmation.
Patrick Morrisey, who also serves as chairman of the national Republican Attorneys General Association, is expected to run for the Senate seat now held by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Patrick Morrisey declined to answer specific questions about his wife’s firm’s lobbying work for Planned Parenthood. Instead, his spokesman, Curtis Johnson, issued a statement saying Patrick Morrisey would keep speaking out against Planned Parenthood funding.
“Attorney General Morrisey, like many West Virginians, is deeply disturbed by Planned Parenthood’s abortion activities and will not let political attacks and efforts to smear his wife deter him from saving precious human life,” Johnson said.
Denise Henry Morrisey did not respond to a request for comment. A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said the organization does not comment on its lobbyists or lobbying costs.
Planned Parenthood hired Capitol Counsel’s lobbyists in 2015 following the release of undercover videos by an anti-abortion group that accused Planned Parenthood of selling aborted fetuses’ organs and tissues. It has since been discovered the videos were heavily edited to lead viewers to a false conclusion and at least one person behind the videos is facing criminal charges.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America has since paid Capitol Counsel $460,000, lobbying disclosures show. As a managing partner at Capitol Counsel, Denise Henry Morrisey holds a 15 percent stake in the lobbying firm, according to U.S. Justice Department records, and her LinkedIn biography lists her as the firm’s “owner.”
Denise Henry Morrisey receives compensation based on the firm’s profits, including those derived from fees paid by clients, according to testimony her husband gave in 2015 amid a lawyer disciplinary board investigation of Patrick Morrisey’s ties to another Capitol Counsel client, drug wholesaler Cardinal Health.
In that same case, Patrick Morrisey asserted he has “no material interest in any compensation” received by his wife. He added his wife’s income has “no impact” on his judgment, and he and his wife “do not share confidences” of their clients with each other.
Capitol Counsel’s lobbying disclosure form does not list Denise Henry Morrisey as a lobbyist directly assigned to the Planned Parenthood account. The list, however, includes Capitol Counsel managing partner Shannon Finley, who donated two $1,000 checks to Patrick Morrisey’s attorney general campaigns in 2012 and last year.
Capitol Counsel’s six partners have given a combined $14,000 to Patrick Morrisey’s campaign. The firm also donated $5,000 to his inauguration ceremony in 2013.
According to a 2014 profile of Capitol Counsel in The Hill, the firm’s lobbyists are “constantly in contact over email as they pitch in with each other’s work.” The article mentions Denise Henry Morrisey as the only Republican at the firm when it began in 2007, saying she specializes in health care.
“Everybody helps with every client, if needed,” managing partner David Jones told The Hill.
In 2015, Patrick Morrisey publicly pledged support for a state Legislature investigation into Planned Parenthood funding in West Virginia, according to a press release distributed by his office.
“I think, in light of all of the allegations and the facts that have been coming out about the possibility of Planned Parenthood selling fetal organs and tissue in violation of federal law, that this is not the type of organization that West Virginia taxpayer money should be spent on,” Patrick Morrisey said at the time.
In Facebook and Twitter posts last month, Patrick Morrisey skewered Manchin, saying he wanted a U.S. senator who “does not stand with Planned Parenthood.” Manchin was seen in a photo beside a woman holding a sign that says, “I stand with Planned Parenthood.”
Democrats were quick to criticize Patrick Morrisey.
“No matter what side of the Planned Parenthood debate you come down on, I think we can all agree that this kind of hypocrisy is what people hate about politics,” said Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. “It is also what prevents us from working together on solutions for the people of West Virginia.”
State ethics laws require the attorney general and other public officials to report their spouses’ business interests, employment and investments. On his financial statement filed with the state Ethics Commission, Patrick Morrisey lists his wife as a “consultant, partner” at Capitol Counsel, where she receives at least 20 percent of her earnings from lobbying.
Another section of the disclosure form requires public officials to report sources of income exceeding $1,000 “received by you and/or your spouse … in your name, or by any other person for your use or benefit.” Patrick Morrisey lists his wife’s income from Capitol Counsel.
Planned Parenthood has paid Capitol Counsel more than any other lobbying firm over the past two years. The women’s reproductive health organization has two other lobbying shops on retainer. Capitol Counsel lobbied on behalf of 83 businesses and organizations during the first three months of this year, a federal lobbying database shows.
In March 2015, Planned Parenthood paid Capitol Counsel to lobby lawmakers to remove a ban on taxpayer abortions included in a Senate bill, according to lobbying disclosures. A month later, the firm also lobbied the Senate to pass an amendment to a House bill that would remove restrictions on the use of tax dollars for abortions, while providing $500 million for family planning programs.
Planned Parenthood’s most recent lobbying report shows the organization paid Capitol Counsel to lobby the House and Senate on a House bill that dismantles the Affordable Care Act and on legislation that allows states to defund Planned Parenthood. The group has condemned both measures.
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