On Aug. 24 the state Attorney General's Office, which had successfully defended the law in Commonwealth Court on its own, told The Inquirer it was representing the state using in-house lawyers and needed no outside assistance.
If outside counsel were hired by the state, the AG's office suggested, it would be to represent the governor.
The Inquirer called the governor's press office Aug. 24. Corbett spokeswoman Janet Kelley responded by e-mail, stating: "We have not entered into any agreement." She also noted that it would not be unusual for the state to do so.
Kelley did not respond to an e-mail reply asking whether Drinker was working on the case in anticipation of a formal agreement. Asked about the situation again on Aug. 27, she e-mailed that "no agreement has been entered into with any outside law firm to assist in the Voter ID case."
On Sept. 7 Drinker filed a 46-page brief with the Supreme Court, defending the voter ID law on behalf of the state, Corbett, and Secretary of State Carol Aichele.
Asked for details, Kelley confirmed that the governor's office had contracted with the firm for up to $75,000. She denied any effort to mislead The Inquirer, saying the agreement was not "finalized" until 5 p.m. on Aug. 27, nearly three hours after she had denied its existence.
So far the administration has refused to provide any further details: when they first approached the Drinker firm, who made the decision to hire them, whether any other firms were interviewed, and what hourly rates are being paid to Drinker's lawyers.
By Pennsylvania standards, Drinker has not been a particularly big political donor to Corbett. The firm and its lawyers have donated $21,000 in cash and $5,505 in legal services to his campaigns over the last eight years.
But the firm has played a critical role in Corbett's political career, dating to his 2004 campaign for attorney general against James Eisenhower.
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Corbett received $480,000, one of the biggest donations in state political history. It came from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a D.C.-based group funded primarily by corporations, which were legally barred from contributing to Pennsylvania candidates.
Eisenhower moved to block Corbett from spending the money until Corbett or the group disclosed where it came from. Drinker, representing Corbett, held Eisenhower's lawyers at bay until the election was over.
Pressured by state election officials, the PAC reported a month after the election that the bulk of the donation came from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, now a major operator in the Marcellus Shale boom. - Bob Warner