Mr. Ginsberg and his colleagues were seeking permission for the Republican candidate, Alice Forgy Kerr, to buy television commercials highlighting Mr. Bush’s endorsement of her candidacy – including clips of the president – around election time. If the commission allowed her to run such ads, Republican candidates across the country might do the same, letting Mr. Bush bolster the Republican ticket as he benefited from television time on their tab.
“There is not always black-letter law to cover these things,” Mr. Ginsberg said. “We’re always trying to find a way to get to yes. It’s free speech. It’s important to get to yes.”
For months now, Mr. Ginsberg on the Republican side and Robert Bauer, a Democratic lawyer, have established themselves at the pinnacle of an elite and wily group of Washington election lawyers who have been testing – critics say weakening – the new McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, as politicians and parties try to navigate the complex rules to their clients’ maximum benefit. Once relegated to the back office, election lawyers are playing increasingly prominent campaign roles, working on cases that have multimillion-dollar consequences and can alter the landscape for the November elections.
Mr. Ginsberg and Mr. Bauer are top advisers to the presidential campaigns, political parties, leaders in Congress and even several major advocacy groups. Between the two, they represent many of Washington’s prime powers.
Mr. Bauer, 52, presides over more than a dozen lawyers and staff members at the firm Perkins Coie, whose Democratic clients have included Senator John Kerry; Representative Richard A. Gephardt and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in the presidential race; the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle; the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi; and the two party Congressional campaign committees.
Mr. Ginsberg, 53, serves as the chief outside lawyer for the Bush campaign. Clients at his office at Patton Boggs include the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert; the former Senate majority leader, Trent Lott; all three Republican national campaign committees; and the Republican Governors Association.
“Both of these guys really understand the law and both are party animals,” said Tony Coelho, a Democratic strategist. “That’s what makes them so effective: Their hearts are in it.”
The most important cases in this election have dealt with the unlimited “soft money” contributions that corporations, labor unions and wealthy donors provide. The McCain-Feingold law banned the political parties from accepting soft money, but election commission decisions have allowed the host committees for the political conventions as well as advocacy groups known as 527 committees to continue collecting it, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the system.