When Attorney General Eric Holder informed Republican House Speaker John Boehner that the Justice Department, having concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, would no longer defend the 1996 law from challenges to the ban on federal recognition of valid same-sex marriages, the GOP leadership exercised its prerogative to step in, initially allocating $500,000 in public funds to do so.
Under terms of a September 29 amendment to the contract between the House and the law firm of Bancroft PLLC, however, the total amount payable to outside counsel for defending DOMA could increase to $1.5 million.
Technically, the contract with Bancroft was authorized by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), made up of the top three members of the majority party and the two ranking minority party members. In fact, approval of the contract and its amendment came on 3-2 votes, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in opposition.
In an October 4 statement, three House Democrats ––Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, Charles Gonzales of Texas, and Zoe Lofgren of California –– wrote, “The entire contracting process has lacked any semblance of transparency. 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.”
On October 7, the Hill newspaper reported that at the right-wing Family Research Council’s annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, Boehner threatened to withhold the money to pay Bancroft from the Justice Department budget. “We’re going to take the money away from the Justice Department, who’s supposed to enforce it, and we’ll use it to enforce the law,” he told the gathering.
On September 26, leading advocates for repealing DOMA –– Democrats Jerrold Nadler of New York, John Conyers of Michigan, and out gay and lesbian Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jared Polis of Colorado, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island –– wrote to Boehner asking that BLAG brief House members on Bancroft’s defense of DOMA. That request followed a similar letter, which went unanswered, sent in early April.