Republican National Lawyers Association | (RNLA)
Republican National Lawyers Association | (RNLA)

Newsletter


A Silver Anniversary: Happy 25th Birthday RNLA!
-Mr. Robert Horn

Photo - Mr. Robert Horn
Mr. Robert Horn
I have spoken about preparing a synopsis of the Republican National Lawyers Association’s (RNLA) organizational history for a long time. In large part, the history of the RNLA is reflective of the success and sometimes the disappointments experienced by the Republican Party nationally and on state and local levels throughout the country. Today, our membership is comprised of dedicated, involved Republican lawyers who are committed to bringing the rule of law back to the electoral process and to stand up for the rights of the electorate to have their votes transparently counted in a fair and accurate manner. We started with a vision that was shared by a few active Republican lawyers. Over the years we developed and grew. Our members participated in the Reagan Revolution, the election of George H.W. Bush, the Florida Recount and the election process in 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008. Our membership helped elect governors, senators, congressional representatives and local officials throughout this country. In each election the RNLA participated in, we learned more, became better lawyers and although the RNLA is not a law firm, our members served as the ground troops in the effort to ensure elections were open, fair and honest. The RNLA is a success story that I am proud to have been a part of and I anticipate that it will continue to make a difference as the need for lawyers in the political process continues to increase long into the future. Enough of the hyperbole; let me now describe how the RNLA began twenty-five years ago.

Although there was a great deal of preparation and discussion between the organizers, May 8, 1985 is the key date when the Republican National Lawyers Association was officially created. On that day, Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., Chairman of the Republican National Committee, announced the formation of the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA). The RNLA was formed to provide pro bono expert legal advice and assistance to the General Counsel of the Republican National Committee, Republican candidates, and Republican state and local political organizations throughout the country. It also was expected to develop state chapters and set up a communications network among these chapters and with the Republican National Committee and its legal staff.

The RNLA was to become a proactive membership organization of Republican lawyer volunteers who would work together with like-minded attorneys from all over the country. The goal of the RNLA was to provide the requisite legal assistance necessary to help elect Republican candidates for office by sharing information, experiences and methods of promoting fair elections by ensuring that federal and state laws governing elections were properly enforced.

The RNLA was the outgrowth of the highly successful Lawyers for Reagan/Bush ’84 Presidential Campaign effort. Although there had been ad hoc legal organizations formed to support previous presidential campaigns, this was the first time a coordinated effort was made by a campaign to deploy a group of trained attorneys in forty-nine states to monitor key polling places and ensure an accurate vote count.

According to Chairman Fahrenkopf, the RNLA was created to:

  • Provide a home for active Republican lawyers within the Republican Party and thereby have them become integrated within it.

  • Continue the successful ballot integrity program initiated during the campaign and extend it to state and local elections and voter education efforts.

  • Provide expert legal advice on election law to Republican candidates and party officials at all levels of political involvement.

  • Take an active role in building the Republican Party and securing the integrity of the voting process for all our citizens.


  • We published our very first “Newsletter” in December of 1985. As Board Chairman of the new, fledgling organization, I wrote an open letter to our membership, which at that time generously estimated that we had about six hundred lawyer members, saying how excited I was about the prospect of creating the RNLA and, at the same time how nervous I was about our ability to maintain this new venture. We did not know whether we could sustain the excitement and enthusiasm engendered by the Reagan Bush campaign. However, a number of us, including Frank Fahrenkopf, Judy Hope, Nancy Nord, Mark Braden, Chuck Cooper, Harvey Koch. George Terwilliger, Betty Southard Murphy, and Robert Freer stepped forward and were instrumental in creating the foundation that has made the RNLA the successful and respected organization it is today.

    We grew incrementally in the years following 1985. We actively participated in Bush/Quayle ’88 and ’92 campaigns and in the Dole/Kemp campaign in 1996. Our membership filled key legal positions in each of these campaigns. Our members contributed their legal expertise to each of the successive nominating conventions from 1988 to 2008. However, 2000 was truly the watershed year for the RNLA. Lawyers from our Florida Chapter were able to muster a cadre of local lawyers who immediately sprung into action in the effort to confirm President Bush's victory. Our lawyers were there when the recount began and their involvement on the ground at the counting centers preceded the arrival of the campaign’s lawyers by at least twenty-four hours.

    Florida provided the RNLA with a momentous recruiting opportunity. Old and new members came together from all over the United States and successfully showed the Republican Party, its leadership and the rest of the country how important a group of volunteer lawyers could be in advancing the integrity of elections at all levels of American society. We showed that by joining the RNLA, Republican lawyers supported the proposition that qualified voters should be encouraged to cast a legal ballot and the organization was willing to supply its legal expertise to protect and preserve this right as effectively as possible in accordance with the rule of law.

    Florida also helped us develop the next generation of RNLA leaders. They included Craig Burkhardt, Harvey Tettlebaum, Peter Shaumber, Jonathan Snare and Tom Spencer, among others. In late 2000, Michael Thielen became Executive Director of the RNLA and late the next year Craig Burkhardt was elected President. Both came to the organization determined to increase its role in promoting fair elections and thus increasing its membership rolls as well as its influence in framing legal issues that impacted the political process. Together with the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress, the RNLA worked to support and confirm the appointment of qualified Republican federal judges and administration office holders. At the same time, we continued to address some of the same issues that we had been involved with over the years, including ballot integrity, gerrymandering and other issues relating to congressional redistricting. Craig and Michael were successful in accomplishing what they set out to achieve; so much so, that when Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) spoke at the 2002 RNLA Annual Conference, he said, “If you are a lawyer and you are a Republican, you should be a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association.”

    We also drafted a 2002 Election Law Service and Referral Plan that was distributed to each RNLA member who volunteered his or her services. The guide instructed our members as to what appropriate in terms of assuring ballot integrity and preventing any kind of voter intimidation.

    After the 2002 elections, with the advent of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) prohibitions against coordination, we adhered to the requirements that the RNLA activities separate themselves from those of the campaign. Beginning that year, we began training lawyers at our annual National Election Law Seminar. The RNLA lawyers who attended became skilled volunteer advocates on behalf of the candidates they supported in open fair and honest election efforts at the federal, state and local levels. Speaker Hastert thanked the RNLA in part saying:

    The efforts of RNLA to attract, train and field a large number of volunteer attorneys to assist in encouraging honest elections were successful and made an important difference in many races. In particular, RNLA's national election law school, election integrity training sessions and Election Day legal leadership were important components of the Republican Party's successful effort to expand our majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
    Harvey Tettlebaum succeeded Craig in the Presidency and the organization continued to support its principles, especially in an individual capacity. In the 2004 election, members like Dick Wiley and Chuck Cooper volunteered to lead the “Lawyers For” operation and Heather Heidelbaugh, Harvey Tettlebaum, Chuck Bell, James Bopp, David Norcross and many others assumed key roles as counsel and chair to national and state party organizations.

    In 2004, other individual members separately volunteered to play a critical role in President Bush’s reelection campaign. Those who were not part of the regular campaign staff found themselves deployed as part of the “72 Hour Volunteer Deployment Program.” Lawyer volunteers were sent to ensure ballot integrity in swing states all over the country. The 2000 Florida effort was expanded to include 12 targeted “purple’ states. In the 72 hours before the election, 1,100 RNLA members volunteered to participate in the program.

    Vice President Cheney addressed our 2005 National Policy Conference and stated:

    The RNLA has stood firm for honesty and fairness in the election process, has trained thousands of lawyers in the details of election law, and has built an outstanding network of skilled attorneys from one end of the country to the other. . . . Life as a attorney doesn't leave many spare hours, yet you've come forward to help the President, to help the party, and our cause in so many ways -- from working on campaigns, to backing judicial nominees, to providing inputs on major matters of public policy. . . . You made a difference, and I promise that your work was never taken for granted. The President and I knew you were out there. We remain grateful for all that you did, and I appreciate the chance to be here today to say so.
    In 2007, Dick Wiley succeeded me as Chairman and two years later David Norcross became Chairman. Harvey Tettlebaum was succeeded by J.C. Boggs as President who was in turn succeed by Chuck Bell as President. The growth of the organization has been dynamic. Our role in the legal aspect of the election law process and our membership continues to grow and expand. At each juncture, most recently during the McCain-Palin campaign, our membership has assumed leadership responsibilities in supporting the presidential campaign and other Republican candidates for political office. RNLA members are the key ground troops for Election Day Operations as seen by the large number of RNLA members who volunteered in recent elections in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

    When the organization began, we were concerned about our ability to succeed in creating a viable Republican lawyers organization that would voluntarily, without compensation, provide competent services to the Republican Party and its candidates. We were told that lawyers are miserly and that they would not volunteer their services to the Party without being paid. Our experience has proven the skeptics wrong. The organization has grown to over 5,000 members on its mailing list. We have expanded and hired a full time staff, headed by our stalwart Executive Director, Michael Thielen. The members of our Board of Governors represent recognized senior Republican attorney leaders from all over the country. The national leadership of the Republican Party will address our membership at the upcoming 25th Anniversary Gala Reception and National Policy Conference and at our annual summer Election Law Seminar on August 13 and 14 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If our goal was to integrate Republican lawyers into participating in the election law process by becoming involved in campaigns and working for the Republican Party at all levels of government, then we have achieved everything we set out to accomplish.

    Moreover, beyond the election process, the RNLA has become both a voice and a home to Republican attorneys who may feel that organizations like the American Bar Association or their state bar associations do not speak for them (at least on political issues). As Vice President Cheney noted above, RNLA’s influence extends into the judicial nomination process, the public policy arena, and beyond. For our members, RNLA offers Continuing Legal Education activities, professional networking opportunities, and a social outlet for attorneys whose political views are in the decided minority in their profession.

    Of course, none of this would be possible without the strong financial backing of the RNLA’s supporters and members. The RNLA has been lucky to receive the longstanding financial support from people like Wolfgang Pordzik and everyone at DHL who have sponsored so many of our events. All of our current and past leaders’ firms have also been extremely generous with their financial contributions over the years, not to mention RNLA’s rank and file members. Without this support, the RNLA would not be able to host events like the annual National Policy Conference, Summer Election Law Seminar, and election law training in numerous states.

    Roger Allan Moore, the General Counsel of the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan’s personal lawyer spoke to the RNLA 25 years ago and said, “Learn to count! Follow Mathew not Mark. ‘He that is not with me is against me.’ Mathew 12:20 ‘For he that is not against us is for us’ Mark 9:40.” With respect to the modern RNLA, I would suggest another maxim of my own, “Follow neither Mathew nor Mark. Know the law governing vote counts better than your opponent. Prevent them from fraudulently stealing the election by making sure the vote count accurately reflects each legitimate vote, properly cast, one vote at a time. Then you have done your job.” Happy 25th Anniversary RNLA, your best times are still ahead of you.

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