Elizabeth Warren revises income disclosure from controversial coal case
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, under pressure to reveal more details of her income, released an accounting this week showing she made nearly $2 million over three decades as a legal consultant while she worked as a bankruptcy professor.
The disclosures provide new information about a controversial case Warren handled in the 1990s, indicating that she earned more from that case than she had previously revealed.
The case involved a Supreme Court appeal that Warren helped handle on behalf of LTV Steel, which was fighting in court over its liability to a health insurance fund for retired coal miners.
In 2012, when her representation of the steel company became an issue in her campaign for Senate, Warren’s aides said she was paid about $10,000 for the work. The newest disclosure said she was paid $18,708.50.
The difference is relatively small but suggests that some of Warren’s previous disclosures regarding her legal work may have been less complete than aides said at the time. It comes as Warren is engaged in a transparency battle with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg over their respective work for major corporations. And it has drawn new attention to one of her more controversial cases, which pitted her against several prominent liberals.
The change in reporting is somewhat surprising given the amount of scrutiny the case received during her 2012 Senate run. Her Senate campaign received numerous detailed questions at the time — including the amount Warren was paid — from both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. In addition to coverage in the media, the case was the subject of an attack ad, news conferences and debate challenges from her opponent in that race, former Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican.
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Warren’s 2020 campaign said the self-reported figure changed because Warren and her staff found additional information. Campaign officials would not specify what documents or recollections led to the change in reporting.
At the time, Warren had reason to minimize her involvement in the case.
LTV, a former industrial conglomerate, was trying to avoid paying millions of dollars into a fund that would pay health benefits for retired coal miners and their spouses. The firm, which was involved in bankruptcy proceedings, hired Warren for her expertise on that topic.
Warren has argued that if LTV’s position had prevailed, the miners would not have lost their benefits because other companies would pay into the fund. Her campaign said in 2012 that in representing the company she had been fighting for a larger principal in bankruptcy law that would protect others with claims against a company undergoing reorganization, as LTV was at the time.
But when the case was fought in 1995, it pitted her against the Clinton administration and Richard Trumka, now the president of the AFL-CIO and then the president of the United Mine Workers.
Trumka worried that if Congress or the courts allowed some companies to avoid paying into the Coal Act fund for retired miners, the fund would unravel and “you will have roughly 200,000 miners and beneficiaries out there that will lose their healthcare.”
Former West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV said older workers could be left “out in the cold” if any exemptions were made to the law requiring them to pay into the fund.
Who was right on that debate is unknowable since the Supreme Court turned down Warren’s petition to review the case. The high court refuses the vast majority of such appeals.
Warren’s campaign won’t rule out further updates on her earnings. An explanation at the top of her recent disclosure says the figures cover “all of the cases Elizabeth Warren worked on that we have been able to identify and all of the income from each case we have been able to determine from public records, Elizabeth Warren’s personal records, and other sources.”
Opponents have called on Warren to release more tax returns from the years when she generated some of her highest earnings as an attorney. She has released 11 years so far. But the returns, while showing outside income earned with her husband, are not itemized by case or client.