Physician's Money Digest, May 15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 9

From the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page

Everyone knew that, as a formertrial lawyer, Senator John Edwardswould be courting his plaintiffs' barallies in his presidential bid. But evenpolitical professionals seem stunnedby the degree to which his candidacyhas become a wholly owned financialsubsidiary of the national tort bar.

According to several analyses ofthe Federal Election Commission'sfirst-quarter campaign finance reports,Senator Edwards landed onthe top of the Democratic money-raisingheap, pulling in $7.4 millionfrom donors. This is impressive, butthe more amazing number is thatnearly two thirds of his cash camefrom attorneys and their families, orother law firm staff. And only a fractionof the funds originated in Mr.Edwards' home state of NorthCarolina. The rest came from aWho's Who of every class-action lawfirm in the nation.

There is, for instance, Mr. Edwards'national finance cochairman, FredBaron (asbestos). Lawyers from hisfirm donated $56,250, people wholived at the same address as thoselawyers gave another $24,000, and Mr.Baron provided a private airplane forthe senator on 15 different occasions.Of course, the senator hasn't reliedexclusively on Mr. Baron's aircraft—he's used jets from 4 other law firmstoo, including those from Girardi &Keese (toxic chemicals) and Wilkes &McHugh (nursing homes).

There are donations from the"Texas 5" law firms (cigarettes),which landed $3.3 billion representingthe Lone Star state in the nationaltobacco settlement. And therehave been contributions from lawyersat Milberg Weiss (shareholderlawsuits) and also from Ness Motley(lead poisoning/medical devices/whistleblowers/you name it).

Curiously, even the firms' supportstaff and trainees are apparently desperateto help Mr. Edwards. At least 20people on his fund-raising report arelisted as "paralegals" and another 9 as"legal assistants"—and all gave themaximum $2000 to his campaign. Onereceptionist at the Alabama plaintifffirm of Morris, Haynes & Hornsby alsogave the full legal amount.

We were trying to figure outwhat a secretary in Alabama earnsthese days when the senator's campaignannounced it would return$10,000 to employees of a LittleRock, Ark, law firm after 1 law clerkacknowledged that she expectedher boss to pay her back for her$2000 donation. Michelle D. Abu-Halmeh said that her boss, TabTurner of Turner & Associates (SUVrollovers), "asked for people to supportEdwards," and said "he wouldreimburse us." Mr. Turner then toldreporters that he wasn't reimbursingher, because "apparently" it was illegalto do so. Apparently?

The plaintiffs' bar has every rightto practice free speech with thesedonations, just as the rest of us haveevery right to draw conclusionsabout Mr. Edwards by the companyhe keeps. But one broader lessonhere is the degree to which lastyear's campaign-finance "reform"has hardly taken the special-interestmoney out of politics. If anything,McCain-Feingold has enhanced theclout of such groups as trial lawyers,who share an intense common interest,are rich enough to afford $2000of individual contributions, and arenumerous enough to bundle togetherhundreds of those donations.

As for Senator Edwards, he doesn'tseem too worried about being in debtto America's least loved profession."The senator is proud of his careeras an attorney," his spokeswoman,Jennifer Palmieri, told 1 reporter. Wedon't doubt it, especially when helooks at his bank balance.

Reprinted with permission of the WallStreet Journal copyright 2003 Dow Jones& Co, Inc. All rights reserved.