TOBACCO MONEY: Trial Lawyers Give Big To Democrats
What are trial lawyers doing with the huge fees they earned from the recent settlement with the tobacco industry? The New York Times reports that many are pumping the money into the tobacco industry's political enemy, the Democratic Party, hoping to stave off November election wins by the Republicans, especially Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Bush "has made attacks on lawyers a campaign centerpiece, pointing with pride to his record in Texas of curbing civil litigation, capping legal fees and limiting jury awards." Trial lawyers last year raised $2.7 million in soft money donations for Democrats -- more than double their soft money contributions in 1995. And the Association of Trial Lawyers of America Political Action Committee has already dispensed $658,000 in direct donations to individual Democratic candidates and party committees.
Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance reform advocacy group, explained, "For trial lawyers, the stakes are enormous beyond calculation this year because the potential is there for tort reform to move from the extreme back burner right up to the front depending on how a couple of elections go. ... And the tobacco settlement has been the pot of gold that has enabled trial lawyers to suddenly have lots of capital behind them." John Coale, a Washington attorney involved in the tobacco litigation, has given the Democrats over $70,000. "It would be very, very horrifying to trial lawyers if Bush were elected. To combat that, we want to make sure we have a Democratic president, House and Senate. There is some serious tobacco money being spread around." Attorney Peter Angelos, who represented Maryland in the tobacco lawsuit and has donated $400,000, added, "I will do whatever necessary to see that candidates who espouse the position that Bush does are defeated at the polls" (Wayne, 3/23).