Battle Over Anti-Worker Asbestos Liability Relief Legislation Illustrates How Corporations Use

March 9, 2000

Battle Over Anti-Worker Asbestos Liability Relief Legislation Illustrates How Corporations Use Money, Influence to Gain Special Favors

New Report Documents Conflict of Interest, Huge New Lobbying Expenditures

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The chief beneficiary of legislation to limit the legal rights of injured asbestos workers has conducted an extraordinary lobbying campaign, according to newly available lobby disclosure reports, that includes a questionable endorsement by a physicians organization and a potential conflict of interest, Public Citizen said in a report released today.

The report comes as the House Judiciary Committee starts marking up the misnamed “Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act,” (H.R. 1283) on March 9 at 10 a.m. The bill would severely restrict the ability of tens of thousands of injured asbestos workers to receive fair compensation and would unfairly protect the very companies that exposed their workers and customers to asbestos knowing that significant numbers of them would suffer severe injuries or die.

The Public Citizen analysis documents how the GAF Corp. and Samuel Heyman (GAF s chairman and 97% owner) has orchestrated the sophisticated lobbying effort and dramatically increased its lobbying expenditures since the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the company s legal strategy to limit its asbestos liability exposure in the Amchem case in June 1997.

GAF s total lobby expenditures since 1997 now top $7.1 million, according to newly available lobby reports. GAF expenditures ballooned from $1.52 million in 1998 to $4.89 million in 1999. In the first six months of 1997, GAF reported having spent a paltry $40,000 lobbying Congress. By the last six months of 1999 that figure had gone through the roof to $3.2 million — a 7,900% increase.

“This is a classic example of how special interests in Washington use political contributions, high-powered lobbying firms and prestigious academics to get special deals in Congress and trample the rights of innocent workers and consumers in the process,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen s Congress Watch.

Clemente said the potential conflict of interest involving a lobbyist for both GAF and the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) illustrates the incestuous relationships on Capitol Hill that almost invariably work against the interests of workers and consumers.

The linchpin of the debate over H.R. 1283 and S. 758 is the medical criteria that makes an injured person eligible for compensation. The bills would cut off tens of thousands of asbestos claims by adopting overly restrictive medical criteria for the types of lung cancer for which plaintiffs currently can receive compensation and would prohibit compensation to most workers with asbestos-caused pleural plaques (thickening of the wall of the lung) despite their proven physical injury.

The report documents that Heyman hired the Boston law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo to lobby for the legislation and, in part, to secure support from doctors groups to endorse the medical criteria. Recent lobbying disclosure reports reveal the firm was paid $340,000 in 1999 for its work.

This past December, the 14,000-member American College of Chest Physicians issued a “Statement on the Principles of Asbestos Legislation,” endorsing the proposed medical criteria. That statement was adopted in an irregular procedure that did not include anyone from ACCP s Occupational and Environmental Health Section, whose chairman, asbestos expert Dr. Michael Harbut, has vigorously criticized the ACCP process and called for a withdrawal of the statement pending a proper organizational review.

While no one from Dr. Harbut s section was invited to the ACCP meeting where the endorsement was discussed, Raymond D. Cotton, a Mintz, Levin lobbyist was in attendance. Cotton s lobby disclosure forms reveal that he lobbies on behalf of both GAF and the ACCP. Yet there is no record in the ACCP meeting minutes of this conflict of interest. Cotton also has been the spokesman for the ACCP when responding to media inquiries about Dr. Harbut s complaints.

The report also documents that the Heyman family (which is worth an estimated $800 million) and GAF have contributed a total of $360,220 since 1995 to political parties and federal candidates. The vast majority of the money went to elected officials and party leaders who have a hand in determining the fate of this legislation. These campaign contributions have increased five-fold from 1995 to 1999 from $21,750 to $119,220 in 1999. The report also documents a strong circumstantial case of a relationship between elected officials receiving campaign contributions and their support for the legislation.

Heyman has a huge personal stake in the legislation. He owns 97 percent of the stock in GAF, which ranks 187 on the Forbes list of the top 500 private companies. As of December 1998, GAF had reported 113,800 asbestos personal injury claims pending against the company.

“This legislation is corporate welfare at its worst,” Clemente said. “It exhibits the worst aspects of how special interests make law in our nation s Capitol.”

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Read Public Citizen’s analysis of the asbestos legislation.