CAPITOL NOTEBOOK CG exas Attorney General John TCornyn is one of a handful of conservative state legal officials who have banded together to raise money to elect more attorneys general wholike themselvesare reluctant to sue big business. In a fundraising letter he wrote last year, Cornyn explained that the controversial group known as RAGA \(Republican Attorneys General arising out of the industry-wide lawsuits that seek to promote pubic policy changes via the courthouse rather than the statehouse,” and out of a desire to stop those with “a wish list for future mass state lawsuitscar rental companies, pharmaceutical firms, makers of lead paint and gun manufacturers.” RAGA receives support from industries that fear state lawsuits, much of that money laundered through a larger Republican PAC to conceal the identities of its donors. So it’s no surprise that Texas has yet to follow Rhode Island’s lead in suing lead paint manufacturers. Last month, a state judge ruled that Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse could go to trial with his lawsuit against eight makers of lead pain t.The lawsuit, which alleges that the defendants knowingly sold a product that poisons children’s brains, seeks to recover the state’s costs to remove lead paint from buildings where kids can be exposed to it. While numerous local governments have filed such lawsuits, Rhode Island is the first state to do so. Whitehouse’s office says that it has been contacted by 15 other states that are exploring similar suits. Citing standard protocol, Whitehouse’s office would not identify whiCh attorneys general have called. According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead is the nation’s leading environmental health threat to kids. The lead industry’s potential liability is far greater in Texas than in Rhode Island. An Environmental Defense report ranks Texas No. 7 nationally in the number of housing units with elevated lead risks N. 37-ranked Rhode Island. Given RAGA’s condemnation of industry-wide lawsuits, it seems unlikely that RAGA members will file suit. This is particularly true of Bill Pryor, the Alabama Attorney General, who currently heads RAGA, and Texas’ Cornyn. Both of these attorneys general specifically have cited lead-paint lawsuits as being an example of the kind of litigation that prompted them to found RAGA in the first place. Cornyn’s , position is even more worth watching because a leading defendant in Rhode Island’s lawsuit is NL Industries, which is controlled by Dallas corporate raider Harold Simmons. Simmons is a major donor to Republican PACs and candidates. He gave $90,000 to George W. Bush’s two gubernatorial campaigns and has given Cornyn $31,000 since 1998. As the producer of the lead pigment that was added to many brands of paint, NL Industries has lobbied to limit its potential liabilities. Prior to joining Bush’s cabinet, Interior Secretary Gale Norton lobbied state and federal officials on lead paint issues for Simmons’ NL. In fact, visitors’ logs reveal that Norton lobbied Cornyn’s office on this issue on May 19, 1999. In another high-powered connection, a leading industry defense attorney in the Rhode Island lawsuit is Richard Thornburgh, who was United States Attorney General under the former President Bush. Since RAGA’s creation in 1999, Simmons’ two main holding companies, Contran and Valhi, have contributed $350,000 to the Republican PAC that launders RAGA’s money, the Republican National State Elections Committee. RNSEC received another $211,000 since RAGA’s creation, from other companies that are defendants in the Rhode Island suit. This includes $201,000 from ARCO \(and ARCO and $10,000 from DuPont. This is absolutely an effort by people with special interests to stop attorneys general from pursuing their traditional role as protectors of the public interest,” said Scott Harshb4rger, the former Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts who now heads Common Cause. Democrats are not alone in their criticism of RAGA. “I try to keep politics out of my business as attorney general,” Pennsylvania’s Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher told the Washington Post when asked why he did not join RAGA. “We’re a family, and families can disagree,” ‘ Grant Woods, a former Republican attorney general of Arizona told the National Association of Attorneys General convention last year. “But don’t do this.” \(According to Tim Corporate AGs: Attorney, Restrain Thyself! Cornyn Not Likely To Bite the Hand That Feeds Him BY ANDREW WHEAT 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5111/01
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