- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle has been in job talks with a law firm whose chief lobbyist is leading the effort to get a tort reform bill passed in the Senate — a bill Mr. Daschle fought vehemently against and that helped cost him his seat.

The lobbyist at McDermott, Will & Emery LLP is chief legal counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and supporter of the Class Action Fairness Act aimed at curbing frivolous lawsuits.

“There have been some discussions between folks in the McDermott office and Daschle, but I’m really not aware of any recent conversations between the office and Mr. Daschle,” said lobbyist Stanton D. Anderson, head of McDermott’s legislative and government relations.

He said the last discussion of which he was aware was about a month ago.

As his party’s leader in the Senate, Mr. Daschle guided Democrats in blocking tort-reform measures. In 2003, he was among the 39 senators who filibustered the Class Action Fairness Act, the same bill now debated in the Senate.

In retaliation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others spent millions on campaigns against Mr. Daschle and others they viewed as wanting to obstruct legal reforms in Congress.

Mr. Anderson stressed that his lobbying in favor of the bill has been exclusively on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he is executive vice president and chief legal officer, and not the McDermott firm, where he is a partner. Mr. Anderson is registered with the Senate to lobby for both the chamber and McDermott.

If Mr. Daschle were to join McDermott, it would be a strange pairing even for the intermingled world of Washington lobbyists and lawmakers, observers say.

A spokeswoman for Common Cause, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that holds elected leaders accountable to the public interest, said that if the Daschle talks are true, “it would be an interesting irony, perhaps one seen only in Washington.”

Mr. Daschle could not be reached for comment yesterday.

With Mr. Daschle defeated and other Republican gains, the bill is expected to pass the Senate as early as today. If passed, it would be the biggest legal reform in a decade and could pave the way for tort reform being drafted that deals with medical liability and asbestos lawsuits.

“If we can pass this and the world doesn’t fall apart — which it won’t — then it will create some momentum for us,” Mr. Anderson said.

Passage also would be a feather in the cap of President Bush, who in his re-election campaign promised to rein in frivolous lawsuits.

“A litigious society is one that makes it difficult for capital to flow freely,” Mr. Bush said yesterday at a town-hall-style meeting about the legal reforms. “And a capitalist society depends on the capacity for people willing to take risk and to say there’s a better future, and I want to take a risk toward that future.”

In a series of votes yesterday, the Senate struck down several amendments to the bill designed to either strengthen or weaken the reforms. Amendments in either direction, said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, would threaten the “fragile compromise” that he and others have cobbled together to break the filibuster.

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