Thursday, July 17, 2003

Yesterday and Today.

In The Washington Post, March 30, 2000:

Republican state attorneys general are soliciting large contributions from corporations that are embroiled in--or are seeking to avert--lawsuits by states.
The Republican Attorneys General Association expects to collect $ 550,000--in chunks of $ 5,000 and up--from various companies gathered in Austin for a two-day session beginning today. The meeting features a "political briefing" Friday morning by Karl Rove, Texas Gov. George W. Bush's chief political strategist.
Membership in RAGA costs anywhere from $ 5,000 to $ 25,000, with increasing levels of access to the attorneys general depending on the donation. Microsoft Corp., which is being sued by 19 states that have joined a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit, contributed $ 10,000 last year, according to company spokesman Rick Miller. Telecommunications giant SBC Communications Inc., whose acquisition of Ameritech Corp. was facing review by state officials, says it contributed $ 35,000.
Officials of the Republican National Committee said RAGA raised $ 100,000 last year, but they declined to identify where the money came from. The donations are used for state attorney general races.
However, there is no way of knowing which companies have contributed to RAGA or how much. Contributions solicited by the group go into the general "soft money" account of the RNC and are reported in the RNC's monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission. "We disclose every cent we raise," said RNC spokesman Mike Collins.
Insurance company Aetna gave $ 10,000 to the RNC's soft money account last July 26, around the time of RAGA's first fund-raising drive, but Collins declined to say whether that was for a RAGA membership. Aetna U.S. Healthcare was one of six managed-care organizations accused of HMO fraud by Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, a Democrat, in 1998 just before he left office. The litigation has been moving slowly under Morales's Republican successor, John Cornyn, host of this week's RAGA conference.
Critics of the group say they are troubled by such spotty disclosure and by the use of state law enforcement officials as fund-raisers for the GOP. Several present and past attorneys general, Republican and Democrat, complain that RAGA puts attorneys general in the position of asking for money from potential or even actual defendants.
"I think this erodes every attorney general," said former Massachusetts attorney general Scott Harshbarger, a Democrat who is now president of Common Cause. "If you don't prosecute a case against someone when people think you should, or defend someone when people think you shouldn't, that's your job. But once somebody thinks one of us is doing that for political reasons, it affects us all."
RAGA's leaders reject charges that the group's solicitations present a conflict of interest.
"I am proud to support [RAGA], and it does not create a conflict of interest," said Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, who founded the group last year. Cornyn said it was "outrageous" to suggest he would be influenced by contributions to RAGA. "As attorney general, I will always take action against those who have broken the law," he said in a statement. "No exceptions. No excuses."
So far, RAGA has enlisted seven of the 15 Republican attorneys general in the nation, and some have told colleagues they joined reluctantly, urged by GOP officials in their states. Besides Pryor and Cornyn, attorneys general in Delaware, Nebraska, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming have signed up.
Asked why he did not join the group, Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher said, "I'm a Republican and I try to keep politics out of my business as attorney general."
"We're a family, and families can disagree," Grant Woods, former Republican attorney general of Arizona, told the National Association of Attorneys General during a discussion about RAGA at its spring meeting here last week. "But don't do this."
One of RAGA's founding members and its first chairman, South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon, had joined the Microsoft lawsuit but dropped out in December 1998, citing changes in the industry. A few months earlier, Microsoft had given $ 20,000 to the South Carolina GOP, one of the largest gifts in the state party's history.
RAGA is an outgrowth of the increased activism of states and their attorneys general in recent years. A number of states have banded together in lawsuits against such companies as cigarette makers and car manufacturers. The group is in part a backlash against activist attorneys general who have teamed up against big business on issues from false advertising by carmakers to price-fixing in the women's shoe industry.
RAGA was conceived by Alabama's Pryor, who said he was alarmed by the dwindling number of Republican attorneys general and the public-private lawyer alliance in the tobacco litigation. He said he began discussions with colleagues, including Condon and Cornyn, about how to elect "conservative, crime-fighting attorneys general in other states."
They joined forces with the RNC, and RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson announced RAGA's formation in June 1999. Nicholson called it "a tremendous opportunity" for the GOP because a large number of attorney general seats up for election in 1999 and 2000 were held by Democrats. The group later said it would not go after incumbent Democrats but would help Republicans seeking reelection or running for open seats.
The attorneys general who formed the new organization and supporters in the business community say what alarms them most is the prospect of more alliances between attorneys general and plaintiff's lawyers that can cost billions, including huge contingency fees such as those awarded to the trial lawyers in the tobacco litigation.
James Wootton, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, said the $ 246 billion tobacco settlement has opened the door to similar arrangements between private lawyers and state officials considering claims against gunmakers and manufacturers of lead-based paint.
RAGA's Austin meeting is closed to the public, but an invitation described it as an opportunity for business executives to talk with attorneys general about how to preserve "conservative principles in the political marketplace."
"I encourage you to round up your clients and come see what RAGA is all about," Cornyn wrote in a January letter to Austin lawyer Hector DeLeon.

In The Washington Post, July 17, 2003:

Republican state attorneys general in at least six states telephoned corporations or trade groups subject to lawsuits or regulations by their state governments to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, according to internal fundraising documents obtained by The Washington Post.
One of the documents mentions potential state actions against health maintenance organizations and suggests the attorneys general should "start targeting the HMO's" for fundraising. It also cites a news article about consolidation and regulation of insurance firms and states that "this would be a natural area for us to focus on raising money."
The attorneys general were all members of the Washington-based Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). The companies they solicited included some of the nation's largest tobacco, pharmaceutical, computer, energy, banking, liquor, insurance and media concerns, many of which have been targeted in product liability lawsuits or regulations by state governments.
The documents describe direct calls the attorneys general made, for example, to representatives of Pfizer Inc., MasterCard Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos., Citigroup Inc., Amway Corp., U.S. Steel Corp., Nextel Communications Inc., General Motors Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Shell Oil Co., among other companies. They also make clear that RAGA assigned attorneys general to make calls to companies with business and legal interests in their own states.
One of those soliciting funds between 1999 and 2001, according to the documents, was Alabama Attorney General William Pryor Jr., a pending nominee by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Sources said that a former RAGA employee recently turned some of the fundraising documents over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could vote as early as today on his nomination. A source who asked not to be named provided the documents to The Post.
The nomination had already provoked a partisan battle, with Democrats contending that Pryor is a conservative ideologue and raising the possibility of a filibuster.

Some things never change.

Suddenly, electing an ambulance-chasing multimillioniare trial lawyer doesn't sound so bad. With all the corporate lawyers in the judicial and legislative branches, America needs a good lawyer in the executive.

Update: Wyeth Wire on Charlie Condon, Edward of Votelaw on Bill Pryor.