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ABOVE THE ORDINARY din that comes with every election campaign season, there was the distinct sound of something new on the political horizon this year something resembling the sound of two rumbling cavalries in a headlong rush. A band of Texas trial lawyers on the one side and an army of insurancemen on the other have made this election the site of the initial battle in a war everyone expects to go full-scale in January, with the start of the 70th session of the Texas Legislature. These are the “Tort Reform Wars,” and when the dust settles several million dollars will have been expended supporting allies, knocking opponents and blitzing the public with bulletins on the crisis at hand. “Tort reform” is going to be the “toughest-fought, meanest, most brutalizing battle of the next session,” says lobbyist A.R. “Babe” Schwartz. And since the candidates who get elected this November will be the participants, unprecedented amounts of money have been pouring into campaign coffers. There is perhaps no more representative issue today for studying the way special interests especially Political Action Committees have come to influence elections and legislation in this state. A three-month Observer investigation traces some of this money and raises questions about the need for campaign finance reform in Texas. Insurance Rough Riders What has come to be known as the “insurance crisis” emerged as an issue in Texas in early 1986 when a special legislative Committee on Liability Insurance and Tort Reform was formed in response to pressure from the insurance industry and special interest groups such as the Chemical Council, Texas Medical Association, oil companies, the construction industry, and defense attor Kathleen Fitzgerald, an editorial assis, twit at the Observer, lives in Austin. This project was funded by a grant from the Project for Investigative Reporting on Money in Politics, based in Madison, VA. neys. \(“Tort” law has to do with injury committed against the person or propcharged with making policy recommendations to the legislature in January. As the Joint Committee held hearings around the state, money was flowing into legislative campaign coffers from “reform” proponents and opponents. By November, the amount spent by special interests on this issue will be enormous. In some cases, tort reform money may make the difference between a victory and a loss in this season’s elections. When the legislators meet and consider changes in the civil justice system, they will certainly be aware of the financial power of the special interests concerned. The Texas Civil Justice League is a coalition of business, trade, professional organizations, municipalities, and law firms organized to promote tort reform in Texas. TCJL spokesman George Christian explains that windfall judgments to plaintiffs have removed all predictability from business profit calculations and represent “a very unfair situation in the civil justice system.” His group advocates caps on lawyers’ fees and limits on the amount citizens can collect for pain and suffering. But Christian says “joint and several liability,” which allows plaintiffs to be fully compensated in cases that involve more than one defendant, is the worst problem. The TCJL has a two-year budget of $1.2 million, about two-thirds of which will support the efforts of the high-powered team of lobbyists the league has hired, Christian estimates. Jerry “Nub” Donaldson, a former state representative from Gatesville, is coordinating the TCJL’s lobbying. He is being assisted, according to Christian, by Neal T. “Buddy” Jones \(once an aide “Rusty” Kelley \(once an aide to former senator Don Adams, and former representative Bill Messer. The TCJL budget does not come close to representing all the money that will be spent before and during the legislative session to promote legislation limiting victims’ access to civil justice. The Insurance Information Institute, the public relations arm of the insurance industry, has announced that it will spend over $6 million to push tort reform in eleven states, including Texas. The Supreme Court Justice Committee announced in the spring that it expected to raise $3 million to elect more pro-defense justices to the state Supreme Court in 1986. The Committee has scaled back its expectations, but according to its lobbyist James Williamson it is organized and funded for a longterm effort. Finally, the types of business most susceptible to wrongful injury suits \(take the chemical industry, organized and richest lobbying groups in the state. Determining what issues political donations are designed to influence is not an exact science. It is pretty safe to say that achieving tort changes is the primary goal of the insurance and medical industries this year and the significance of their campaign contributions is not hard to interpret. Other industries such as chemicals, oil, construction, railroads, the press, and waste management have a more complicated agenda, but according to George Christian of the TCJL, which has representatives of all these groups among its membership, changing the civil justice system is “very high on their agendas.” So far in 1986, PACS identifiable as representing members of the TCJL have spent $751,345, according to records filed with the Secretary of State’s office. As an indication of the importance of this issue and the new level of financial activity it is eliciting, it is constructive to compare it to the lobbying effort on banking legislation during this summer’s first special session. BALLOT, the major PAC representing banking interests, reported having spent $141,290 by in anticipation of the legislature acting on ‘legislation crucial to the Texas banking industry. In the year before tort reform will even be considered by the legislature, over five times that amount has been spent to influence insurance regulation in the state. The Texas Medical Association’s TEXPAC is probably the richest in the state. It has taken in $632,269 and spent $764,943 so far this year. But TEXPAC by no means represents all the money being spent by the medical profession \(which wants to curtail malpractice and influence legislation in Texas. The Texas Hospital Association’s HOSPAC reports having spent $35,250 so far in 1986, the Texas Dental Association’s DENPAC $317,381, the Chiropractic PAC $50,245, and the Texas Osteopathic PAC $26,450. At least $1,279,771 has been spent by PACS representing the medical profession in Bidding for Influence Special Interests. Launch a Campaign Spending War By Kathleen Fitzgerald 8 OCTOBER 24, 1986