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The “Money Power” Behind Edwards

Why would John Kerry pick John Edwards as a running mate when Edwards is not likely to even bring his state of North Carolina into the Democratic column this fall? It has nothing to do with him being “commanding, charismatic and charming,” as reporters said the morning of the pick. The same media that harp on Vice President Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton and Big Business suddenly became silent on Senator Edwards’ links to the profitable pro-litigation lobby of rich trial lawyers. The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) has called them the “Learjet lawyers” because they have made hundreds of millions of dollars exploiting the civil justice system.

The Edwards pick is an opportunity for the media to demonstrate some fairness, balance, and solid journalism. It’s a certain fact that Kerry and Edwards will campaign on the rising cost of health care, a real problem in America today. But will the media document how the activities of Edwards and his trial lawyer friends are a key factor behind those rising costs?

It’s also true that Kerry and Edwards will campaign on the theme of keeping manufacturing jobs in America. So will the media explain how litigious trial lawyers have bankrupted good companies such as Owens Corning through litigation, costing jobs and devaluing workers’ pensions?

As Edwards talks about “the two Americas,” will the media point out that multimillionaires Edwards and Kerry are far removed from the concerns of ordinary Americans?

While national reporters acknowledged the elementary fact that Edwards made millions of dollars as a trial attorney, and has a personal fortune approaching $50 million, they did not explore how the lawyers lobby had been pouring money into the Kerry campaign to buy the vice presidential slot for Edwards. But Rob Christensen of the Raleigh (North Carolina) News & Observer reported, “Since withdrawing from the presidential race, Edwards has redirected his financial pipeline?much of it from plaintiffs attorneys?to Kerry. By some estimates, Edwards’ donors have funneled $7 million into Kerry’s coffers. Edwards’ chief fund-raiser, Fred Baron, a Dallas trial lawyer, is working full time to raise money for Kerry.”

Groups such as ATRA and websites such as http://www.overlawyered.com [1] had seen the Edwards’ pick coming, based on how Edwards’ backers had switched to Kerry. Fred Baron had left the Edwards campaign to co-chair the Kerry Victory ’04 committee. Specialized publications such as Legal Times had noted the changeover. Lily Henning of Legal Times reported on June 18, “Shortly after Edwards dropped out of the race in March, his fund-raisers gathered in Washington and were addressed by both Kerry and Edwards, who encouraged them to give to Kerry’s campaign.”

Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute has written extensively on “the money power” behind Edwards and his questionable fundraising practices. He cites a story by Sam Dealey of The Hill newspaper in Washington. Dealey analyzed the contributions and found that money came from low-level law firm employees with “limited financial resources and no prior record of political donations,” and that the checks arrived at the Edwards campaign on the same day. Clearly, the contributions were coordinated, and employees were asked or pressured to contribute.

While the lawyers have been making huge amounts of money and spending it on political power, doctors and hospitals have been losing it, forcing a crisis in the medical profession that threatens access to the health care system by ordinary Americans. Medical liability insurance premiums have reached $200,000 a year in some specialties because of excessive court judgments generated by suits filed by Edwards and his trial-lawyer allies. 

In Maryland, the state’s largest malpractice insurance company announced its intention to raise doctors’ premiums by 41 percent, on top of last year’s 28 percent hike. Maryland doctors, especially obstetricians and gynecologists, are already quitting or leaving the state. Medical liability insurance costs are also rising for hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living programs, adult day-care operators and nurses.

It’s one thing to defend somebody against a negligent doctor or hospital. But Marc Morano of CNS News has reported that Edwards made a lot of money off cerebral palsy cases using “junk science,” when scientific studies show that cerebral palsy isn’t caused by botched deliveries. Morano confronted Edwards about this during the campaign. He reported, “Edwards did not say a word, despite two more attempts to elicit a response. His aides intervened and moved the senator along.”

Assuming that the media are committed to ethical and honest journalism, reporters will get answers to these questions.