Group says trial lawyers actually gave $35 million to political causes

Chris Rizo Mar. 15, 2010, 12:39pm

John Sullivan

Nancy Drabble

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California trial lawyers and their political action committees have given far more money to sway public policy than a recent state-issued report indicates, a tort reform group said Monday.

The Civil Justice Association of California said plaintiffs' attorneys last year gave more than $1 million to incumbents and candidates for office.

The group said trial lawyers gave $567,000 to incumbents and candidates for statewide office, such as governor and attorney general, and $464,000 to Senate and Assembly candidates and officeholders.

And since the 1999-2000 election cycle, the total given by trial lawyers to California statewide and legislative officeholders and candidates is more than $35 million, CJAC said, according to campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state's office.

CJAC's number is considerably larger than the $8.8 million the state Fair Political Practices Commission reported Wednesday that the trial lawyers' lobby group, Consumer Attorneys of California, has spent to better its political future.

The independent watchdog agency's report, "Big Money Talks," said Consumer Attorneys of California spent more than $21 million over the past decade to sway public policy in the direction of plaintiffs' attorneys.

But the FPPC report only took into account money from trial lawyers that flowed directly through their association. When money from the group is combined with contributions made by personal lawyers and other trial attorneys, their firms, and family members, you get some-$35 million in political contributions, CJAC said.

"The bottom line is that personal injury lawyer and other plaintiffs' lawyer money is enormous by any measure, especially given the contributors' narrow focus of promoting their litigation industry," CJAC President John Sullivan said.

Last week, Nancy Drabble, chief executive officer of CAOC, defended her group's political expenditures as outlined in the FPPC report, telling Legal Newsline that trial lawyers are up against the deep pockets of Big Business when it comes to protecting consumers.

"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."

But, according to CJAC, much more money is actually going to help make the trial lawyers' case to state officials and political hopefuls.

"The lion's share of trial lawyer money going to candidates and office holders comes directly from individual lawyers and their firms, not trial lawyer campaign committees. Therefore, these lawyers' ongoing attempt to influence our government is far greater than even the high level documented by the FPPC and most others attempting to track campaign dollars."

Last year, state Attorney General Jerry Brown raked in the most money from the trial bar -- $142,300.

In the race to succeed Brown as the state's next chief legal officer, the trial bar last year gave $53,800 to former L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and $51,600 to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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