Calif. trial lawyers dole out campaign cash

Chris Rizo Sep. 18, 2009, 2:53am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)--California trial lawyers are expected to shell out big bucks to help their allies get elected in 2010, observers say.

If the first six months of the year is any indication of things to come, the Civil Justice Association of California says plaintiffs attorneys are poised to give candidates for the state Legislature and statewide office, including attorney general, huge sums of money.

Campaign finance reports filed with the California secretary of state's office show that from Jan. 1 to June 30, trial lawyers gave more than $570,000 to incumbents and candidates in the Golden State.

Of the money given, individual attorneys and their law firms contributed more than $420,000.

"This is a huge amount of money from a narrow special interest group, given that when they were made elections were more than a year away," said CJAC President John Sullivan. "We believe that before the end of the year many thousands more dollars will flow down this money chute from the personal injury lawyers to those they hope will bend to their wishes."

By their contributions, trial lawyers have shown an interest in who might become the state's next attorney general provided that Jerry Brown, a Democrat, decides not to seek reelection.

In all, plaintiffs attorneys sent a combined total of nearly $117,000 to those interested in serving as the state's next chief legal officer, including Democratic Assemblymen Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara, Alberto Torrico of Fremont, Ted Lieu of Torrance, and former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

In the state insurance commissioner race, trial lawyers for the first six months of the year gave Assemblymen Dave Jones of Sacramento and Hector De La Torre of South Gate a combined total of nearly $100,000.

CJAC said in the 2007-08 election cycle, plaintiffs' lawyers spent more than $4.1 million in direct contributions and through trial lawyer-controlled political action committees.

A chunk of the money trial layers have given so far this year have been through the many fundraisers held by lawmakers and candidates.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission said Wednesday that incumbent lawmakers held more than 325 fundraisers in Sacramento this year -- that is not counting mixers held elsewhere.

"Sacramento is home to the confluence of three great rivers: the American, Sacramento and L Street -- where the State Capitol is located," FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson said in a statement. "When the Sacramento or American Rivers overflow their banks they call it a 'natural disaster,' but when L Street floods the downtown area with campaign cash they call it 'business as usual.'"

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