- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

A Texas law firm's huge profits from the $17 billion tobacco industry settlement, supported by the Clinton administration, have netted the Democratic Party one of its largest soft-money campaign contributions in the current election cycle.

Houston-based Williams Bailey Law Firm and its partners, who take credit for helping win the massive multistate personal injury lawsuit against tobacco companies, gave $703,500 over the past year to national Democratic campaign committees and Vice President Al Gore, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

A study by The Washington Times of legal profession contributions to both parties through May 1 showed a great disparity favoring Democrats in unrestricted "soft money" donations to parties, while direct "hard" contributions from individual attorneys throughout the country have been more evenly distributed and favored Republicans.

Trial lawyers nationwide who concentrate on negligence and medical malpractice cases have donated about $20 million to presidential and congressional campaigns, mostly to Democratic Party campaign committees, the commission's reports show.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) and 25 law firms and lawyers contributing more than $100,000 each gave $6.2 million to Democrats and $1.6 million to Republicans.

One of them, Baltimore trial lawyer and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, has funneled $652,900 to the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee since January 1999.

Mr. Angelos, who has been accused of employment discrimination because of the Orioles' reported refusal to sign Cuban defectors, made the donations four of $100,000 each and one of $250,000 through March 31. Two donations totaling $2,900 to the DSCC and the DCCC were from the Baltimore Orioles.

Mr. Angelos, who has denied the discrimination accusations, could not be reached for comment.

His secretary said he attended a DNC fund-raising gala May 24 with President Clinton and Mr. Gore at Washington's MCI Center, where Democrats collected a further $26.5 million for the vice president's race for the White House.

Those funds have not yet been officially reported.

The political action committee of ATLA gave $1.3 million to the Democrats and just $260,650 to the Republican Party, saying the GOP has not sufficiently backed the lawsuit agenda of trial lawyers nationally.

"If more Republicans really did believe, as they say they do, in personal responsibility and accountability and states' rights, they would support the rights of all Americans in our civil justice system," Carlton Carl, the ATLA's spokesman, said in defending the group's pro-Democratic stance.

Mr. Carl said ATLA favors the Democratic Party because it supports liberal laws allowing personal injury, product liability, medical malpractice and other negligence claims in the courts against companies and individuals. "It is the rights of all Americans that ATLA believes in, and that is what motivates its political involvement."

Bill McCarthy, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, countered that the ATLA is "a very liberal group of trial lawyers that fights for their right for frivolous lawsuits. What they've found is that the Democratic Party carries their liberal agenda."

"They want a lawyer standing between every patient and their doctor, no matter how many people lose their health care coverage," Mr. McCarthy said.

Soft-money donations, condemned by Mr. Gore, are unrestricted by federal law and permitted to be used by political parties for voter registration, issue advertisements, getting out the vote and other general activities to help party candidates get elected.

Direct donations to candidates called "hard money" are restricted to $1,000 per election from individuals and $5,000 per election from political action committees.

Hard-money donations from lawyers and firms across the country directly to presidential campaigns have been much more proportionate and even have favored Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumed Republican presidential candidate, the survey by The Times showed.

An analysis of industry contributions by the Center for Responsive Politics, an interest group promoting more disclosure of election finances, showed Mr. Bush had received $5.2 million in direct donations from the nation's lawyers through May 20, or 54 percent, while Mr. Gore had received $4.5 million, or 46 percent.

Mr. McCarthy said the trend of hard-money contributions from attorneys generally favoring Mr. Bush was consistent with polls showing the Texas governor pulling ahead in the presidential race.

"I'm not surprised rank-and-file lawyers support George W. Bush," the GOP spokesman said. "Just like all Americans, they want better schools, lower taxes and a strong national defense."

An analysis by The Times of attorney and lawyer donations, as reported by the candidates themselves, showed that Mr. Bush had disclosed just $1.1 million in contributions from members of the legal profession, while Mr. Gore had disclosed only a total of $65,681 including just $6,350 from his own state of Tennessee.

The analysis was done by compiling and segregating attorney donations by using the occupation field in the candidates' FEC reports, with help from the Internet Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sheila Krumholz, the center's research director, said the analysis by The Times of state-by-state attorney and lawyer contributions showed a "disclosure problem" in the candidates' filings. Reports from both the Gore and Bush campaigns do not properly disclose donors' occupations, she said.

In a "quality of disclosure" rating, the center said, Mr. Gore properly disclosed all donor information for $22.4 million of his total donations, or 79.7 percent. There was no disclosure for $4.3 million of donations, or 15.2 percent, and incomplete disclosure for $1.4 million, or 5.1 percent of donations.

Mr. Bush's campaign finance reports fully disclosed $61.6 million of donations out of $81.3 million received, or 88.3 percent. His reports contained no disclosure for $7.7 million of donations, or 11.1 percent, and incomplete disclosure for $433,219, or 0.6 percent of all donations.

Ms. Krumholz said the center overcame the failure of candidates to report occupations of many attorneys and other donors by giving an industry code to their listed business name or company of employment, so that donations could be sorted by industry and profession.

"We code each donation by industry or interest group. That's how we came up with those numbers" showing how much money Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush had received from the legal profession and other industry sectors, she said.

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