July 26, 2000
New Report Uncovers Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Industries to Restrict Legal Rights
“Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse” Groups Linked to National Network Funded by Major Tobacco and Corporate Money
WASHINGTON, D.C. — So-called “lawsuit abuse” groups throughout the country are part of a national, corporate-backed network of front groups that receive substantial financial and strategic assistance from the tobacco industry and some of America’s biggest corporations, a major new report released today by the Center for Justice & Democracy and Public Citizen finds.
Typically called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), Lawsuit Abuse Watch, or Stop Lawsuit Abuse (collectively referred to as “CALAs”), these groups masquerade as grassroots citizens groups spontaneously manifesting citizen anger against so-called “lawsuit abuse.” The groups aim to incite public scorn for the civil justice system, juries and judges, and to pave the way for enactment of laws immunizing corporations from liability for actions that harm consumers.
The report, THE CALA FILES: The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights, is co-authored by investigative journalist Carl Deal and Joanne Doroshow. Doroshow, an attorney who has represented consumer interests on civil justice issues since 1986, is executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy (formerly Citizens for Corporate Accountability & Individual Rights).
“This report unmasks funding by self-serving mega-corporations that secretly spawned a national network of fake citizens organizations,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “These so-called citizens groups are doing the bidding of the corporate funders and are pushing at all levels to deny Americans access to the courtroom and to create a legal environment that shields corporate wrongdoers from accountability.”
The authors drew from the cache of newly released tobacco industry papers uncovered in connection with state lawsuits against the five major tobacco companies. They also reviewed other public documents and interviewed lobbyists, elected officials and paid consultants.
“This report shows how large corporations seeking to reduce their liability to consumers created and bankrolled the CALA campaign to manipulate the media, the legislative process, the electoral process and the American public,” Doroshow said.
Added Deal, “The report identifies many of the corporations, national lobbying groups and political consulting firms behind the state CALA groups, and exposes how the tobacco industry has concealed its leading role in order to preserve the CALAs credibility in the public eye.”
Among the report s key findings:
- Since 1991, “tort reform” advocates have set up dozens of tax-exempt groups in at least 18 states (currently there are 27 active groups) to plant their spurious “lawsuit abuse” message in the media and the public consciousness, and to influence legislation, the judiciary and jurors. These groups claim to speak for average Americans and represent themselves as grassroots citizens groups determined to protect consumer interests. But their tax filings and funding sources indicate that they in fact represent major corporations and industries seeking to escape liability for the harm they cause consumers.
- A huge cache of documents made public in the late 1990s during state litigation against the tobacco industry reveals that Big Tobacco spent millions of dollars annually supporting the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), its grassroots lobbying firm, APCO & Associates, state CALAs and other activities to weaken tort laws in many states. ATRA and APCO supply the CALA groups with strategic guidance, media training and pre-produced radio, television, print advertising and billboards designed for maximum media exposure and legislative impact.
- Some CALAs, such as one in Louisiana, were virtually created by the tobacco industry. Tobacco money has gone directly to ATRA, APCO, and state organizations and been indirectly funneled to the cause through trade associations, lobbyists and law firms, such as the Washington, D.C. firm of Covington & Burling. In the late 1980s, Big Tobacco s efforts were instrumental in the passage of legislation immunizing the industry against products liability claims in a number of states.
- The CALA blueprint was honed in South Texas in the early 1990s. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who raised more than $4 million in his gubernatorial races from Texas “tort reform” groups, has been one of the Texas CALA s most prominent champions.
- The report provides a detailed review of CALA activities and documents from 18 states including Alabama, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.
- A principal focus of CALA groups since the mid-1990s has been to ensure the election of pro-industry state judges and the defeat of judges who typically support plaintiffs verdicts or have voted to strike down state tort law restrictions as unconstitutional.