Nearly 10 years out of the role of U.S. attorney, Kansas City attorney Todd Graves has carved out a niche for himself representing clients in the political arena nationwide.
In 2006, he founded a firm that eventually became Graves Garrett. Last year the firm garnered national recognition for its work responding to an investigation into a Wisconsin political group and its alleged ties to Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.
“The allegation was that Wisconsin Club for Growth and others illegally coordinated with Scott Walker’s campaign for governor,” he said. “ … Our analysis was it wasn’t even close.”
Graves said there were investigatory tactics that struck him as abusive.
“They raided political activists’ homes with search warrants at dawn,” he said. “Having been a prosecutor, this is a paper case. A lot of times you use search warrants because there’s a danger, there are drugs or guns or things that you need to get your hands on.”
He said in this case, where the paper trail is key, “a subpoena would have been as effective as kicking someone’s door in.”
Graves said that he didn’t represent Walker in the investigation, but represented other parties who are active in the political process. He called them “pure-play political activists.”
“They don’t have anything they want in particular. They have a theory of government that they believe in and they support,” he said. “These are the people essentially that democracy was created for.”
Graves represented the club and Eric O’Keefe, the group’s director, in its lawsuit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board over the board’s involvement in the criminal investigation.
The case ended in a settlement in which the board agreed it had made contact with prosecutors beyond its authority to pursue civil enforcement actions, and had used state funds to do so. State lawmakers have since passed a law dismantling the agency.
Graves said his focus on constitutional speech appeals to him because it appeals to his own conservative beliefs. He also agrees with the ideals of his clients, which are conservative and libertarian-leaning.
“I’m someone who has strong political opinions,” he said. “I don’t let them get in the way of personal relationships or collegiality in the bar, but I agree with their opinions.”
He added that it’s a bonus to be able to do that type of litigation in the Midwest.
“We’re based in Kansas City and we get paid to do it all over the country, that’s good stuff for a lawyer,” he said. “Professionally, it’s very stimulating and it’s interesting.”
Graves’ next big case is shaping up to be a class action suit against the Internal Revenue Service. He represents a Tea Party group, the NorCal Tea Patriots, alleging the IRS improperly held up nonprofit status based on the group’s political advocacy.
Graves’ clients received class action status in January and, unlike other similar cases, the case has managed to advance to discovery for class purposes.
“It’s very difficult to sue the IRS and we’ve survived motions to dismiss,” he said. “I’m proud of that.