Campaign Finance Investigation Reveals Plaintiffs’ Trial Lawyers Are the Biggest Political Contributors in Louisiana
Trial lawyer-backed super PACs spending heavily in the 2015 governor’s race
LAFAYETTE, LA (Sept. 29, 2015)—A Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) investigation into campaign contributions to elected officials reveals trial lawyers, as a whole, spent more than any other special interest group to steer elections across the state.
“If campaign cash is the measure of political clout, it is not ‘Big Oil’ or ‘Big Business’ that calls the shots in Baton Rouge,” said Melissa Landry, executive director of LLAW. “That distinction goes to a relatively small group of trial lawyers who have used their winnings from massive court settlements to unleash a coordinated flood of campaign contributions in an apparent attempt to stymie meaningful lawsuit reform.”
A yearlong analysis of more than 1,000 campaign finance reports filed between 2008 and 2014 shows the plaintiffs’ bar spent a combined $8.5 million on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts in Louisiana over the seven-year period—including nearly $2.7 million in direct contributions from trial lawyers and their law firms to sitting lawmakers.
LLAW released “The Trial Lawyer Money Trail” report, the first independent investigation into the influence of the plaintiffs’ bars’ on Louisiana’s political system, at a public briefing held in Lafayette today.
The report highlights three main components of monetary influence:
Direct campaign contributions by plaintiffs’ lawyers and law firms to state legislators, statewide elected officials and state political parties, which totaled more than $4.1 million.
Campaign contributions by plaintiffs’ lawyer political action committees (PACs), which totaled more than $967,200.
Lobbying expenditures of plaintiffs’ lawyers and their association, which totaled more than $3.54 million.
An analysis of Louisiana’s top 100 political contributors shows plaintiffs’ trial lawyers spent more resources to promote their agenda than any other special interest group, including the state’s largest business organization, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), insurance companies, oil and gas producers, nursing homes, the shipping industry and the chemical industry, among others.
The report also shows significant growth in trial lawyer giving over time. According to public finance reports, campaign donations from members of the plaintiffs’ bar to state lawmakers have quadrupled since 2008.
“This highly coordinated, multi-million dollar effort shows the lawsuit industry is more invested in fighting reforms than ever before. These new super PACs have allowed them to even further concentrate and intensify their political spending to influence the outcome of elections,” Landry said.
Super PACs are independent expenditure-only committees that can accept and spend unlimited contributions to advocate for or against political candidates as long as they do not coordinate with candidates or give them direct contributions. As of the September 2015 reporting deadline, two trial-lawyer backed super PACs had invested $1.32 million to influence the outcome of the Louisiana’s 2015 governor’s race.
For example, campaign finance reports filed on behalf of the Louisiana Water Coalition PAC last week showed $1.1 million in loans and contributions provided by the law firm Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello, which is involved in hundreds of controversial environmental lawsuits across the state.
The report also notes Gumbo PAC, funded largely by plaintiffs’ lawyers, has raised $222,000. Six high profile plaintiffs’ firms contributed 85 percent, or $190,000, of that total, including Herman, Herman & Katz of New Orleans, Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys of Baton Rouge, Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola & Taylor of Belle Chasse, Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett of Opelousas, the Murray Law Firm of New Orleans, and Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson of Lake Charles.
“It is more important than ever to keep a watchful eye on the political activities of the plaintiffs’ trial bar,” Landry added. “This powerful special interest group is expending unprecedented resources to support candidates and legislation to make our lawsuit system serve their interests, rather than the interests of ordinary Louisianans.”
Download the full report here.
Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) is a non-partisan, non-profit, citizen watchdog group focused on a broad range of civil justice issues. Since it was formed in 2007, LLAW has grown to include nearly 6,000 supporters across the state, representing small business owners, health care providers, taxpayers, workers and their families. Using community outreach, public education and grassroots advocacy, LLAW works to raise awareness about the costs and consequences of lawsuit abuse and to urge elected officials to bring more balance, fairness and common sense to Louisiana’s civil justice system. Learn more at LLAW.org.