Politics & Policy

Gone Fishing

The Senate Democrats work to kill Bill Pryor's judicial nomination.

The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, specifically, Senator Edward Kennedy’s (Mass.) staffers, have gone on a fishing expedition to smear one of President Bush’s judicial nominees, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, nominated to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Democrats have discovered that Bill Pryor, a Republican attorney general, raised money for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). (See Quin Hillyer in the Mobile Register and Kathryn Lopez on NRO.)

Gasp! I’ll wait while you reset your pacemakers.

Bill Pryor broke no law and no ethical rule. Pryor simply told the Senate Judiciary Committee that while he had raised money for RAGA, he could not answer specific questions on from whom, how much, and when because he does not have the records. The Republican National Committee has the records. The Democrat Attorneys General Association (DAGA) has the same arrangement with the Democrat National Committee.

If senators were to wrest DNC records from McAuliffe’s clutches, though, they might discover that several states’ attorneys general that played key roles in negotiating tobacco settlements have received a number of contributions from trial lawyers and firms directly involved in the nationwide tobacco litigation or corporate interests embroiled in a variety of other lawsuits. Consider some examples:

Mike Moore

Mike Moore, the Democrat Attorney General of Mississippi received contributions from tobacco trial lawyers, both inside and outside of Mississippi, during his 1996 campaign for the office. Moore filed the first lawsuit against the industry and has been recognized for pioneering the litigation. In 1998, the National Law Journal named him “Lawyer of the Year.” Mississippi’s attorneys received $1.4 million as a result of settling the case.

The following trial lawyers, all of whom appeared as attorneys of record for the state of Mississippi on the May 23, 1995 complaint filed against the tobacco industry, all contributed to Moore’s 1996 campaign: Paul Benton ($5,000), A. Scott Cumbest ($2,500), David McCormick ($2,500), and Charles McTeer ($1,500).

Moore selected one of his top past campaign contributors, Richard Scruggs, his college roommate, to lead the Mississippi effort. In 1992, Scruggs had received a $2.4 million contingency fee for a state asbestos lawsuit after contributing over $20,000 to Moore’s 1991 reelection campaign.

The following trial lawyers, all of whom contributed to Moore’s 1996 campaign, were attorneys of record for the other states involved in the tobacco litigation: Kenneth Badon ($5,000), Wayne Hogan ($2,000), Michael Maher ($2,000), Robert Montgomery Jr. ($2,000), James Nance ($2,000), Drew Ranier ($5,000), and Sheldon Schlesinger ($2,000).

Jay Nixon

Jay Nixon, the Democratic attorney general of Missouri, has likewise received contributions from tobacco trial lawyers hired by the state. From 1992-2000, lawyers with the five Missouri firms hired to handle the state’s tobacco lawsuit donated $94,693 to Nixon’s political efforts. Missouri’s attorneys received $111 million as a result of settling the case.

Christine Gregoire

In December 1999, Christine Gregoire, the Democratic attorney general of Washington, received $23,000 from two dozen lawyers from Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole of Charleston, S.C. and their relatives. This amount constituted, at the time, nearly half of the total she had taken in from all donors. Ness Motley was one of four firms that represented Washington in the tobacco-settlement negotiations.

Gregoire has been described by Harvard Law Professor Kip Viscusi as being the state attorney general “most responsible for brokering” the national tobacco settlement. Washington’s attorneys received $93 million as a result of settling the case.

Eliot Spitzer

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has taken campaign contributions from corporations against which his office has brought lawsuits.

Pfizer: In 1999, Spitzer’s office reached an agreement with Pfizer to settle false and deceptive advertising complaints related to the company’s lice-treatment products. The agreement did not include any damage payments to injured consumers, but did require Pfizer to pay the New York attorney general’s office $75,000 to cover the costs of their investigation. Spitzer’s 2002 campaign later received at least $1,500 from Pfizer’s New York State PAC.

Metropolitan Life: In 2000, Spitzer obtained indictments against two Met Life sales representatives who defrauded elderly victims out of more than $5 million in a life-insurance scam. Met Life agreed to create a $1.25 million restitution fund to compensate victims, and Spitzer commended the company for working with his office. Spitzer’s 2002 campaign received a $1,250 contribution from the company.

AT&T: In November 1999, Spitzer’s office and AT&T entered into a settlement after Spitzer’s office concluded that the company had engaged in deceptive business practices related to AT&T’s advertising of its “00 Info” long-distance connection service. AT&T agreed to discontinue its advertising practices, and paid no fines. It did reimburse the attorney general’s office $40,000 for the cost of the investigation. Spitzer’s 2002 campaign subsequently received a $1,000 contribution from AT&T’s New York PAC.

Citigroup: In 2002, Spitzer began investigating the actions of Citigroup’s Salomon Smith Barney investment-banking arm, particularly those of telecommunications analyst Jack Grubman. Spitzer later sued SSB and several wealthy clients, alleging that five telecom executives received shares of certain IPOs in exchange for steering investment-banking business to the firm. Spitzer’s office also settled an investigation into the business practices of Citibank regarding certain online gambling activities by third parties. Citibank is an affiliate of Citigroup. Citibank agreed to pay the attorney general’s office $100,000 for the cost of the investigation and contribute $400,000 to an escrow account administered by Spitzer for distribution to non-profit groups dedicated to assist gambling addicts. Spitzer’s 2002 campaign received a $5,000 contribution from Citigroup’s PAC.

MCI/WorldCom: In 1999, Spitzer announced that MCI had entered into a multi-state settlement after the company allegedly charged customers a new fee, but described the fee to consumers as a government-imposed tax. MCI paid $1.32 million to settle the case, and New York received $55,000. Spitzer later received $1,000 from MCI’s New York PAC.

Eli Lilly: In 2002, Spitzer settled a privacy action against Eli Lilly after the drug company exposed the e-mail addresses of Prozac patients who registered with the company’s website. In a multi-state settlement, the company agreed to pay $160,000 and strengthen its privacy controls. Spitzer’s 2002 campaign later received $6,000 from Eli Lilly’s PAC.

If Pryor did nothing wrong, how can this new strategy be explained? Could the Democrats, frustrated that they could not break Pryor at the hearing, could not poke holes in his record on fighting race discrimination, and could not find any lack of integrity, have decided on a good old-fashioned trip through the mud pile?

Could the purpose of this be to conclude that the only way to answer questions would be to have the RNC turn over RAGA’s records (which they know it won’t, just at the DNC wouldn’t turn over DAGA’s records)?

Could it be that this is their plan to manufacture a we-have-to-filibuster-until-we-get-the-documents-that-we-know-we’ll-never-get scheme just as they did with District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada and the internal solicitor general’s office memos (that even the Democrat solicitors general wouldn’t turn over)?

This is trash politics at its worst, courtesy of your Senate Democrats.

Kay Daly is the spokesperson for the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary.

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