- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When President Obama and his liberal Democratic allies squeal at the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to exercise freedom of political speech, somebody should ask them why they aren’t as horrified by the enormous campaign expenditures by the one industry that treats liberal politicians like chattel servants.

The industry in question is the bar of big-money plaintiffs’ lawyers. A study called “Trial Lawyers Inc.,” released Feb. 9 by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, tells the tale.

For years, during every election cycle, lawyers as a whole have donated more money than any other industry to federal and state political campaigns. This largesse included $780 million for federal and $725 million for state elections in the past decade alone. The bulk of that cash comes from plaintiffs’ attorneys. Each cycle, 90 percent or more of that jackpot-justice cash goes to Democrats. Plaintiffs’ firms are four of the top seven donors to the campaigns of embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, also is deeply in political debt to these lawyer groups.

The lawyers get what they pay for. Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, spilled the beans at a Reston, Va., town meeting in August when he admitted the main reason Democrats don’t include lawsuit reform in their health care proposals is that they are afraid of angering the plaintiffs’ lawyers. And bill after bill after bill in the Democratic Congress, on a bewildering variety of issues, contain hidden provisions that would further enrich those attorneys.

Not that they need it. At an annual direct cost to the economy of $250 billion, the lawsuit industry represents about 2 percent of the entire American economy. That’s twice the percentage of gross domestic product as is taken up by lawsuits in Germany and three times that of France and Great Britain. These numbers do not even include most securities litigation or the billions of dollars paid by tobacco companies as a result of the famous 50-state lawsuit in the 1990s. Nor do they include indirect costs from rampant lawsuits, such as the amount of good behavior deterred through fear of legal action or the expensive, unnecessary tests ordered by doctors to avoid spurious malpractice suits.

More data from the “Trial Lawyers Inc.” report: About 83 percent of Americans polled say the legal system makes it too easy to assert invalid claims. No wonder. A host of high-profile class-action lawsuits have turned out to be utter boondoggles. Massive fraud was discovered in thousands upon thousands of claims for a disease called asbestosis. An entire breast-implant industry was killed by such suits even though it later turned out the implants were safe. Similar horror stories abound. Meanwhile, three of the nation’s most prominent big-money lawyers have been imprisoned in recent years. A fourth, the late Fred Baron of Texas, provided the hush money to hide the love child of the nation’s most famous trial attorney of all, sleazy former presidential candidate John Edwards.

The Manhattan Institute report traces all of the strands of this story of lawsuit industry abuse and identifies an abundance of new, costly payoffs to the trial bar pending in Congress. Unless and until congressional liberals stop kissing up to these lawyers, Democrats have no moral authority to complain about any other purported “special-interest” money paying for political messages.

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