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EDITORIAL Civil Justice for Sale tive agenda,” said a Houston Democrat on the House floor two weeks ago when presented with the list of the big donors who write checks to both Republican and torn-reform political action committees That response perfectly describes the big money that tried to unseat House Democrats in 1996 through the most expensive legislative election campaign ever run in Texaswhile at the same time funding \(at a much lower Call them electoral venture capitalists: the state’s really big campaign and lobby funders who, as we reported in our April 25 issue, spread their wealth among tort-reform PACs \(like Republican electoral PACs: Associated Republicans of Texas and 76 in 96. “They’re going to buy this House,” a freshman Democrat said. And he’s probably right. Texas’ wide-open campaign-finance rules \(basically, if you report it, you Republican money will sooner or later completely control the Legislature. Republican funders have deeper pockets, and the huge Republican investments in Texas elections are as good a bellwether as any of where public policy in this state is headed. That course has become particularly evident during the past two legislative sessions, when laws were passed that make it much more difficult to sue negligent corporations or individuals for crippling or fatal workplace injuries, medical malpractice, unsafe products, and consumer fraud. And the 1989 dismantling of the workers compensation system has stripped workers killed or injured on the job and their families of their right to sue negligent employers. There is now so little incentive left for personal injury lawyers to represent workers or their families before the Texas Workforce Commission and its state insurance program that compensates workers for death or injury, that even David Counts recently complained to the House State Affairs Committee that his constituents can find no lawyers to take up their workers compensation claims. And Counts is a pro-business Democrat whose votes on tort reform are impossible to distinguish from the votes of garden-variety House Republicans. Texans for Public Justice has just released a’ detailed report, Tort Dodgers: Business Money Tips Scales of Justice, that follows tort-reform money from its corporate sources to the legislators who accept it. The report confirms the Observer’s findings that the tort-reform agenda is not just TEXAS’ WIDE-OPEN CAMPAIGN-FINANCE RULES \(BASICALLY, IF YOU REPORT IT, YOU CAN ACCEPT ITS MAKE IT INEVITABLE THAT THIS BIG REPUBLICAN MONEY WILL SOONER OR LATER COMPLETELY CONTROL THE LEGISLATURE. proposed by the Republican Party, it is almost entirely underwritten by Republican money. Democrats in the service of the tort reformers lobby would be hard pressed to find one of their party members among the top fifteen tort-reform funders identified by Texans for Public Justice, a non-profit, consumer-oriented group whose findings in this case are drawn directly from filings at the Ethics Commission. Consider the following list of contributors to Texans for Lawsuit Reform: developer energy company owner tion company owner investor banker and investor stockbroker minerals extraction magnate gas/utility company CEO magnates oil-and-gas company owner developer medical supply company owner furniture chain owner and-gas company owner Christi hotel chain owner. This is not exactly a bi-partisan list of citizens concerned about the workings of the civil justice system. It is, rather, the captains of industry in this state, who clearly stand to benefit from laws restricting citizens’ right to sue when they are injured by corporate negligence. Texans for Public Justice not only followed the river of tort-reform money to its corporate headwaters, it charted the course of the money to every recipient in the Legislature, from Freshman Republican representative Ron Clark, who last received $122,923 in Texans for Lawsuit Reform funding, to Bill Roman, a College Station Republican who didn’t receive one dollar from the twenty-two PACs included in the study. The top ten recipients of Texans for Lawsuit Reform in the Senate \(and we do not here include all twenty-two tort reform PACs included in the Texans for Public See “Justice,” page 18 MAY 9, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3