CHARLESTON – Two days before the general election, a state legal watchdog group has posted its final "Dirty Dozen" list of legislative candidates whose campaigns have accepted the most money from personal injury lawyer special interests.
Some of the candidates on the list, prepared by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, have accepted up to two-thirds or more of their large contributions from personal injury lawsuit interests, which, WV CALA says "only feeds the state's lawsuit abuse crisis."
The complete "Dirty Dozen" list can be found below.
In the numbers based on final pre-election filings, WV CALA says much of the personal injury lawyer money comes from outside the legislators' districts. Campaign finance records show that in just the past six weeks, three candidates combined took in more than $25,000 in personal injury lawyer interest contributions from outside their districts.
In fact, lawyers with just two northern panhandle firms have given nearly $50,000 to candidates outside their district this year, and nearly $20,000 in just the past six weeks.
"The danger to West Virginia citizens this November is that just a greedy few profit from excessive lawsuits, while most of us end up losing out on opportunities for well-paying jobs, losing access to important medical and community services, and paying higher prices for goods," WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said in a news release. "Just as in the last campaign cycle, most of this money came from a few big-money firms and is 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 "are accepting large sums of money from personal injury lawyers who only profit from our state's reputation as a playpen for lawsuit lawyers," Cohen said. "This explains why West Virginia is ranked at the very bottom of all states in legal fairness, based on a national survey of employers released earlier this year."
In the 2004 general election cycle, more than half of the candidates on the Dirty Dozen list lost their bids for office, as did three from this year's primary.
"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's important to the future of West Virginia families, and it underscores why we need to know who is bankrolling these campaigns. Right now our unemployment rate is worse than every state around us, and we are losing our children to jobs in other states, which is a situation that has to change."
CALA's research is based on Secretary of State filings of campaign contributions in amounts greater than $250, according to its press release. Contributions of this size require disclosure of the contributor's occupation.
The general election is Tuesday.
The Dirty Dozen
Here is West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse's list of the top 12 legislative candidates in terms of how much money their campaigns have received from personal injury lawyers. After the candidate's name, party and district, the information includes the amount of money the candidate received from personal injury lawyers and the percentage of his total campaign contributions come from personal injury lawyers.
Rick Thompson (D, House 17) -- $38,600 -- 64.82 percent
Paige Flanigan (D, House 25) -- $33,700 -- 67.67 percent
Alex Shook (D, House 44) -- $33,000 -- 53.61 percent
Sharon Spencer (D, House 30) -- $29,150 -- 57,21 percent
Joe DeLong (D, House 1) – $18,800 -- 40.08 percent
Edwin J. Bowman (D, Senate 1) -- $17,500 -- 18.72 percent
Orphy Klempa (D, House 3) -- $15,500 -- 33.12 percent
Jim Lees (D, Senate 4) -- $15,450 -- 35.23 percent
C. Randy White (D, Senate 11) -- $13,900 -- 29.72 percent
Erik Wells (D, Senate 8) -- $13,000 -- 33.38 percent
Bobbie Hatfield (D, House 30) – $9,850 -- 36.62 percent
Bonnie Brown (D, House 30) -- $9,800 -- 45.58 percent