Calif. trial lawyers spend $21 million to sway officials

Chris Rizo Mar. 12, 2010, 3:44pm

Ross Johnson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California's trial bar lobby spent more than $21 million over the past decade to sway public policy in the direction of plaintiffs' attorneys, a state report said.

The Consumer Attorneys of California, formerly the California Trial Lawyers Association, spent the money on lobbying state officials, ballot measures and helping candidates for public office, the California Fair Political Practices Commission said.

The independent agency's report, "Big Money Talks," said Consumer Attorneys of California spent more than $5.3 million on behalf of political candidates, including the $2.2 million it gave to California Alliance, a Coalition of trial lawyers, conservationists and nurses.

The group also spent $763,700 opposing Proposition 64 on the 2004 ballot. The measure, which voters approved handily, allows individual or class action lawsuits only if a plaintiff can prove an actual loss.

Nancy Drabble, chief executive officer of CAOC, defended the group's political expenditures that, among other things, went to help expand civil liability statutes and fighting tort reform efforts.

"The FPPC report shows what an uphill battle consumers face just to be heard," Drabble said. "Tobacco interests spent almost four times as much as we did. Oil company interests spent nearly five times as much. The medical industry interests spent close to ten times as much. We fight hard every day to keep consumers' voices from being drowned out."

The FPPC report indicates that the California Teachers Association spent the most money of any special interest group in the state -- $211.8 million over the last 10 years -- to advance their political agenda in Sacramento.

The No. 2 was the California State Council of Service Employees, which spent $107.4 million. In third was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhaRMA, spending $104.9 million.

"This tsunami of special interest spending drowns out the voices of average voters, and intimidates political opponents and elected officials alike," FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson, a former longtime Republican state senator, said in a statement.

In all, 15 groups, which include six corporations, four trade associations, three Indian tribes and two labor unions, spent more than $1.3 billion on influencing voters and officials, the report said.

"The reality in politics is that money talks. Sometimes money shouts," the report said. "If it didn't, special interests simply would not spend so much money trying to influence public policy and elections."

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