Willkie, Farr and Gallagher, top Wall Street Law Firm, Corrupts Politics and Sinks Economy


            The Law Firm of Willkie, Farr and Gallagher was formed by Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican nominee for president. Willkie was a corporate lawyer.


            Willkie’s nephew, Hall F. Willkie, is the president of Brown, Harris, Stevens real estate firm in New York, where he specializes in high end residential properties.  Willkie and his partner, Tom Craveiro, a designer and contractor, have a 70 acre weekend and vacation property in Bovina, New York; a small town in upstate Delaware County that has about 600 residents. 


            Delaware County, in the Catskill Mountains, is sparsely populated, with a largely agricultural anemic economy.  When the possibility of installing commercial wind turbines on nearby mountain tops was raised, opponents, seeking to preserve the pristine character of the area, organized a voter-registration campaign among second-home owners and passed a zoning ordinance prohibiting wind farms.


            Under New York State’s Election Law, voters are required to register to vote from their residence.  A local resident challenged the registration of Mr. Willkie and other voters on the uncontested basis that they were not residents of Bovina.  After an investigation, the Delaware County Board of Elections cancelled their registrations.


            The disenfranchised voters contacted Willkie, Farr and, according to an in-house newsletter, “the firm agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis because of the importance of the issues involved.”  Pro bono means literally “for the good of (society)” but, in effect, the firm handled the case for free.  Now, there’s an important social issue; helping millionaires work all week in the noisy, dirty city to vote from their second residences so they can use their franchise to keep an area quiet and pretty, as well as backward and economically depressed. 


            In the end, the appellate court ruled that what mattered was not the actual residence of the voter, but “their true desire to become part of the Bovina community.”  In short, because their addresses in Bovina were not intended for any fraudulent purpose, the court ruled that people owning two homes could vote wherever they choose.


            This decision is absurd at best and outright fraud at worst.  Political subdivisions are supposed to have common interests.  Many states have “compact and contiguous” requirements for drawing district lines.  Elbridge Gerry, the Governor of Massachusetts and Vice-President of the United States, gave the English language the term “gerrymandering.”  This was the drawing of bizarre district lines in order to achieve a political result from the shape of the district.


            New York State’s Appeals Court decision leaves the municipal boundaries of Bovina intact, but it gerrymanders the electorate.  Allowing voters to choose from where to vote is absurd on its face.  It means there are two standards for voting residency, one for people who own two homes, and one for people who can only afford to have one.  (Remember Bush v. Gore when the nation got the loser because of an alleged absence of a “uniform standard.”) Doing an Einstein-like thought experiment can demonstrate the absurdity further.  Suppose a town has 300 voters, 200 of whom are second homeowners who really reside elsewhere.  Some live in Massachusetts, others in Maine, others in New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut or other parts of New York.


            The appellate court decision deprives the remaining 100 voters of having an informed electorate.  First of all, they can not organize a political campaign because the majority of their voters live elsewhere.  Campaign laws and registration lists are designed on the assumption that any member of a political community can contact the other voters in person, by going door to door.  If a significant portion of the voting population lives elsewhere, then the political assembly rights of the remaining residents have been abridged.   The non-residents can always vote by absentee ballot and need not even show up.  Their other addresses can be secret and they can have unlisted numbers.  Contacting the voters who live elsewhere could be anything from expensive and time consuming to impossible.  The appellate court only requires the demonstration of “intent” which can be asserted without any physical proof or requirements.


            Also, political institutions are designed on the assumption that events in the subdivision are known to the decision-makers.  When the voters in an entity live elsewhere, this can not be assumed.  When Main Street is closed for repairs, when a water main breaks and school closes, when someone gets arrested for drunk driving or the local bank gets robbed and is closed for the afternoon; the people who live in the town learn about it because their lives are disrupted.  The people who live 100 or 200 miles away have no consciousness of these events and must make an extra effort to learn about them.  They are having their own experiences in the place where they live.  This makes the non-resident voters necessarily less informed than those who reside in the district.


            In short, what Willkie, Farr did was get the court to focus only on the second homeowner and forget the first amendment assembly rights of the rest of the electorate that lives exclusively in Bovina.  By looking at only one half the equation, absurd results are easy to achieve.  I guess that’s why Willie, Farr has a good reputation, it knows how to manipulate the law to get any result.  Seeing as Willkie, Farr has the pick of the finest minds graduating from the premier law schools, is it any wonder that the country is going down the drain when they donate their time and effort to idiotic issues like helping millionaires vote from their second homes, regardless of how unfair and destructive it is to anyone else?


Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page

Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf