CHARLESTON -- Just when you believe that it would be impossible for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and Greg Thomas to sink to new lows, they manage to do it.
Such is the case with the “Dirty Dozen” attack launched last week. With it, their double-standards and affinity for half-truths shine for every West Virginia voter to see.
First, CALA attacks West Virginia legislative candidates for accepting contributions from lawyers. What CALA fails to disclose is that these contributions represent just a percentage of what those candidates raised -- in one instance, it was less than 10 percent.
If you review the campaign finance reports in detail, you get a very different picture.
Contributions came from industry leaders, coal, labor, insurance, bankers, the medical community, environmental advocates, manufacturers and small business owners. They came from college students and from retirees.
While these candidates had $1,000 contributions from some donors, others contributors donated just $10 or $20. One candidate on the CALA list received more than 25 percent of reported contributions from small-dollar donors.
And, yes, contributions came from plaintiffs’ attorneys, but they also came from our state’s leading defense firms, too. This does not point to candidates being “bought” by one industry or another.
What it shows is that a lot of West Virginians -- voters with very diverse business and personal interests -- believe that these candidates are the best ones for the job.
Furthermore, what right does CALA have to attack candidate contributions when it has refused for 20 years to disclose who its own funders are?
At its very first press conference back in August 1994, CALA “would not say who is funding the group and its campaign” (Associated Press, printed in Charleston Gazette Aug. 31, 1994). It is still refusing to answer the question.
West Virginia political candidates are required by law to disclose who is funding their campaigns. If CALA is legitimate and has nothing to hide, then why doesn’t it tell us who is funding the group? If you want to attack candidates for accepting contributions from certain groups, then step forward and admit who’s funding you.
What is even more ludicrous is that Greg Thomas is now stating publicly that “West Virginia is not for sale.” When did he have that epiphany? When his checks were no longer signed Don Blankenship?
This is Greg Thomas who headed Blankenship’s effort to buy a West Virginia Supreme Court seat in 2004. His boss funneled millions into that race while hiding behind the fake name, And for the Sake of the Kids. In 2006, he headed Blankenship’s multi-million dollar effort to buy the West Virginia Legislature.
Clearly, Greg had no problem with selling West Virginia when Blankenship was trying to buy it. He has no issue with the new effort by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity either.
Where is his outrage over that multi-million dollar effort with our state elections? Thomas’ hypocrisy is asinine.
Thomas is also once again trying to use the widely discredited American Tort Reform Association’s Judicial Hellhole report to support his arguments. As has been pointed out time and time again, the report has been discredited by both academics and the media.
The New York Times reported in 2007 that the report was not a valid analysis -- and the report’s authors admitted it. “The question is whether the report’s arguments make sense, are supported by evidence and are applied evenhandedly. Here the report falls short ... It has no apparent methodology.”
In response, ATRA admitted that “we have never claimed to be an empirical study” (New York Times, Dec. 24, 2007). What is even more ridiculous is that one year West Virginia was included in the report based on a lawsuit that was never even filed in the state. When the error was pointed out by a reporter, ATRA said the mistake didn’t matter—we were still a hellhole (Charleston Gazette, Dec. 5, 2005).
CALA readily repeats this shoddy research from its partner organization -- both CALA and ATRA were created by the same Washington, D.C., PR firm -- while ignoring independent research that shows that the exact opposite is true. West Virginia ranks 40th among all states and D. C. on the number of civil cases filed per capita.
In 2013, the number of appeals filed with the West Virginia Supreme Court declined to a 26-year low of just 1,360 cases. More than half of these cases are for workers compensation, abuse and neglect and criminal appeals.
Our appeals have declined four times the national average. These figures do not point to a “judicial hellhole.” Thomas can claim two plus two equals 10 all he wants, but the answer is still wrong.
West Virginia voters deserve better than the likes of Greg Thomas and CALA. They deserve the truth -- the truth about who is funding CALA and who is trying to buy elections here.
Until then, voters should view claims made by Thomas for what they really are. In the words of Republican State Senator Clark Barnes: “pure Greg Thomas crap” (Charleston Daily Mail, May 13, 2011).
Layne is president of the West Virginia Association for Justice and is a partner with the Charleston firm of Mani, Ellis and Layne.