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The Little-Known Lawsuit Lobby

The Little-Known Lawsuit Lobby

Understanding the influence of nonprofit activist groups and special interests is key to understanding the country’s sociopolitical landscape

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIgWnhQRrdE

The Capital Research Center (CRC) works to shed light upon activist groups that seek to influence American public policy. Such groups are important to a healthy civil society, but the fact that many are not widely known—or their activities not widely understood—is problematic if one values a well-informed citizenry. To illustrate this, consider CRC’ s new report on the “Lawsuit Lobby,” or the organized special interests representing plaintiff-side trial lawyers.

In the 2020 election cycle, OpenSecrets rated sixteen of the twenty top political action committee (PAC) contributors to Democratic federal candidates as being either “solidly Democrat” or “leans Democrat” (the remaining four gave heavily to candidates from both parties). Of these sixteen PACs, one was affiliated with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and fourteen were associated with labor unions—a traditional and widely-recognized Democratic constituency. The lineup for 2022 looks very similar.

The last of those sixteen PACs, however, was rather different. It sent 97 percent of its contributions to Democratic candidates, yet it represents a constituency that most Americans probably don’t readily associate with Democratic politics: trial lawyers. Few are likely familiar with the American Association for Justice (AAJ), the membership association that lobbies on behalf of the professional interests of more than 20,000 plaintiff-side civil litigators nationwide. Fewer still understand what that means in practice. Indeed, the AAJ’s very name is unlikely to prompt thoughts of lawyers and lawsuits.

That was not always the case. When the AAJ decided to change its name from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America in 2006, its reasoning essentially boiled down to the fact that it was concerned with being seen as a special interest group for lawyers. Perceiving a need to “win back the public in both the jury box and the ballot box,” the group’s research had apparently demonstrated that “if our message is or seems to be only about helping lawyers, we lose.”

Of course, promoting the interests of trial lawyers is what the AAJ does, and Democratic lawmakers certainly appear to have reciprocated for the support they receive. Take a notable example from last year. Buried in the 2021 budget bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House was an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that would have permitted lawyers operating on a contingency fee basis to immediately deduct expenses related to their lawsuits. Not only is it easy to see how this might incentivize certain attorneys to bring less-than-ironclad cases, but the estimated cost—as much as $2.5 billion over 10 years—would have amounted to “a direct income transfer to plaintiffs’ lawyers, who will turn around and finance Democratic election campaigns,” to quote the Wall Street Journal. The paper’s editorial board called it “the definition of a corrupt political bargain.”

Were it not for the substantial media coverage that the provision received, the effort might well have flown under most Americans’ radars. That might have been the point. The AAJ has long sought this particular tax break on behalf of its members, yet it also recognized that “a stand-alone bill to help lawyers” had little chance in Congress. Instead, the group determined that it needed “to tuck it into something.” Its inclusion in the budget bill was brazen enough for the Washington Examiner to write that the provision alone “would be sufficient grounds for voting it down.”

Another example can be found in the AAJ’s strong opposition to limits on attorney’s fees, such as those that were included as part of the proposed Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017—which the AAJ vigorously attacked. While the relative merits of everything that was included in that bill are open to reasonable debate, one of its objectives was to limit attorney’s fees to a percentage of the benefit actually received by the plaintiffs themselves. Not only would this seem like common sense to many ordinary observers, but mounting evidence suggests that excessive fees relative to plaintiff benefit is a legitimate problem in class actions and elsewhere. The bill passed the House over uniform Democratic opposition, but ultimately died in the Senate.

The point of all this is twofold. First, understanding the influence of nonprofit activist groups and special interests is key to understanding the country’s sociopolitical landscape, and the public is considerably less familiar with the activities of many of these groups than they probably should be. Second, it is worth thinking about the Lawsuit Lobby specifically. Attorneys have every right to promote their own professional interests, but all Americans have a vested interest in our civil justice system. Even if the vast majority of the bar dutifully accepts the considerable responsibility entrusted to it, we should constantly monitor how well-aligned those interests actually are with one another.

To read CRC’s full report on the Lawsuit Lobby, click here.

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Robert Stilson is a Research Specialist at Capital Research Center and runs several of CRC’s specialized projects.

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Comments

Somehow Dickens’ “Bleak House” comes to mind whenever I hear of “civil litigators”.

    Dimsdale in reply to bernie49. | November 28, 2022 at 8:53 am

    “Ambulance chaser” comes to my mind.

    Aren’t contingency lawyer fees in the 30% range? They don’t take loser cases, and they have all the incentive in the world to start near frivolous lawsuits on one’s they think they can convince a non expert jury to award billion dollar judgements.

    A tiny percentage should be sufficient.

      CommoChief in reply to Dimsdale. | November 28, 2022 at 12:51 pm

      If we want to begin using the criminal code to punish corporate wrongdoing then there’s a much stronger argument for limited punitive damages. Until then the awards for punitive damages are, for all practical purposes, the only recourse.

Democrats are on a war footing 24/7. Republicans are constantly surprised.

It should surprise no one that the Democrats are on the payroll of the Trial Lawyers. For nearly 20 years, the Speaker of the NYS Assembly was listed as “of Counsel” to the leading plaintiffs’ firm on the East Coast. As far as anyone could see, the only service he provided was to stymie tort reform in the legislature. His association with the firm eventually landed him in prison.

Every time I look at that bug eyed fabulist Adam Schiff, I marvel at the damage he’s done to this country. He makes Joe McCarthy look like a saint.

    Don’t blame Schiff. He’s honestly frighteningly stupid.

    But never forget that the Democrats propped this idiot up for YEARS, because they don’t care how much damage he does as long as they win.

“Hey, make me a market.”

As the govt directs more, it makes ever more sense to lobby the directors vs. offer something to the users — they used to be called customers. “Herd your livestock over to this particular sheep dip of mine.”

At what point is this legitimately called “fascism?”

Everybody SHOULD be familiar with the EPA’s classic ‘sue and settle’, where far left liberal groups sue the EPA (and the federal government) claiming some idiotic nebulous ‘harm’ that everybody knows that they can’t prove in court, but the government doesn’t care, friendly liberals in government don’t WANT to win the actual court case, they ‘settle’ and agree to do all manner of insane regulations in the settlement. And because it was a ‘settlement’ rather than simply a bureaucrat writing a regulation, it makes it nearly impossible for somebody to come along and remove it, no matter how insane and unconstitutional it was.

Its just a shell game by liberals.

Lawyers fees have been a giant problem for quite some time. How many have heard of the gigantic “class actions” where the lawyers ended up rich and everyone else got a toaster or a 4 pack of Red Bull. However, lobbyists do what lobbyists do from the Car Industry to Teachers Unions: look after their own members.

    Milhouse in reply to diver64. | November 28, 2022 at 7:42 pm

    Class actions are supposed to end up that way. The whole point of class actions is that they provide a way to sue defendants who rip of a very large number of people for a very small amount each, so small that it would be insane for any one of them to sue for it. If class actions were not available, there would be no reason why anyone should not do this. A class action lets the lawyer who finds out about the scheme, and can show that the defendant is doing it systematically, sue on behalf of all the victims at once. Suddenly a case that was about $10 becomes about $10M or $100M. If the lawyer wins, each victim is entitled to at most $10, while the lawyer is entitled to and should get a decent percentage of the whole $100M. That’s his incentive for pursuing the case, and risking that it would fizzle into nothing and he’d be out all his expenses. Otherwise nobody will undertake such cases and the bad guys would just keep doing it.

I look forward to Adam Schiff being in an urn.

They also have lobbying groups that file lawsuits when their buddies are in control. The buddies decide to either not fight it in court or put up some rinky dinky defense designed to lose.
Payoffs, how many ways can they come up with. America is a nation of sheep being fleeced.

Is there any info on TML and the others that cities and counties hire to lobby against taxpayers. A few years back TML had one of their “classes” titled “Shake the Money Tree” which was all about how to tax us more and more what words to use and when to use them and I hear that from my county judge. I complain every time the legislature is in session because we pay TML and 2 others to lobby for the county and then we have the county judge some commissioners the sheriff the fire marshall the fire cheif the auditor about some 15/18 county officials paid by tax dollars that also go to Austin so they too can lobby and of course tax payers pay for all of them also–stay there for 3/4/5 days several times a session so not cheap.