Saving the recovery from the trial lawyers
At the center of the impasse is the trial lawyer lobby. Over the years, the plaintiffs’ bar has cultivated its support in Washington and state capitals alike. Unlike ordinary businesses that sell products or services to willing consumers, lawyers generate revenues from unwilling defendants through their unique access to the government’s judicial branch. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need civil lawsuits or that some aren’t necessary. Rather, the point is that lawyers have a vested interest in currying favor with government actors beyond the ordinary regulated industry.
To protect that vested interest, plaintiffs’ lawyers give a lot of cash to key political actors. So far in this political cycle, the political action committee for the aforementioned American Association for Justice is the third-biggest donor to Democrats running for federal office, behind only the PACs for two labor unions. The trial bar’s money is concentrated (97% to Democrats so far this cycle) and consistent (more than $5 million to Democrats’ federal campaigns in each two-year political cycle dating back to 1996).
The trial bar’s political giving through a formal PAC only begins to tell the story. Campaigns require individual donations, legally limited in amount (“hard money”), and plaintiffs’ lawyers have perfected the art of “bundling” such campaign largesse.