CHARLESTON - A state legal reform group is warning voters in the May 9 primary election that legislative candidates on their ballot may be in the pocket of the personal-injury lawsuit industry.
The numbers come from official campaign finance records for the first primary reporting period reviewed by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA). The group says such a high level of support from the lawsuit industry only feeds the state's lawsuit abuse crisis.
"The danger to West Virginia citizens is that just a greedy few profit from excessive lawsuits, while most of us end up paying higher prices for goods, losing access to important medical and community services and lose out on opportunities for well-paying jobs," said Steve Cohen, executive director of CALA, a grassroots group that has more than 30,000 members across the state.
"Just as in the last campaign cycle, most of this money is coming from a few big-money firms and channeled into races far away from the offices or homes where these lawyers work and live. Our members want to know if their candidates are influenced by personal injury lawsuit interests and if they will support reforms to stop the state's lawsuit abuse problem."
CALA's Dirty Dozen "have taken money from personal injury lawyers who only profit from our state's reputation as a playpen for lawsuits," Cohen said. "This explains why West Virginia is ranked at the very bottom of all the states in legal fairness, based on a national survey published just last month."
In the last campaign cycle, more than half of the candidates on the Dirty Dozen list lost their bids for office.
"Having a Legislature that will fight lawsuit abuse is a must because employers create jobs in states where the legal system is fair," Cohen said. "That is important to the future of West Virginia families and it is why we need to know who is bankrolling these campaigns."
CALA researches individual campaign contributions in amounts greater than $250. Large contributors are required by state law to disclose their occupation.
The West Virginia primary election is May 9.
WV CALA'S LAWSUIT DIRTY DOZEN
2006 First Primary Reporting Period
Amount and percent of individual contributions over $250 received by personal injury lawsuit interests:
Alex Shook (D) -- $19,500 (House District 44) 88.64 percent
Willliam "Bill" Wooton (D) -- $17,500 (Senate District 9) 49.86 percent
Edwin J. Bowman (D) -- $16,000 (Senate District 1) 21.08 percent
Chris Cooper (D) -- $13,500 (House District 46) 93.10 percent
Joe DeLong (D) – $11,500 (House District 1) 56.34 percent
C. Randy White (D) -- $8,800 (Senate District 11) 60.27 percent
Paige Flanigan (D) -- $7,800 (House District 25) 88.64 percent
Sharon Spencer (D) -- $6,800 (House District 30) 77.27 percent
Erik Wells (D) -- $4,750 (Senate District 8) 46.80 percent
Molly Lohr-Robinette (D) -- $4,000 (House District 24) 80 percent
Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D) -- $3,000 (House District 44) 50 percent
Marie Redd (D) -- $2,000 (Senate District 5) 49.38 percent