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John Edwards and the Redistribution of Wealth

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator John Edwards of North Carolina was taken to task in a Washington Post editorial on January 23rd, 2004, because he would not release a list of his campaign donors. Edwards, who says that he represents “regular people,” claims he has not taken money from lobbyists. However, an April 2003 editorial in the Wall Street Journal calls the Edwards campaign…”a wholly owned financial subsidiary of the national tort bar..” Polls taken in his home state found a majority resenting his White House bid when there is much to be done in North Carolina.

Edwards’ notion of supporting regular people also apparently means that those folks must pay an invisible tax and hidden cost on everything they buy, or services they use, to pay for insurance against lawsuits brought by his fellow trial lawyers. Columnist Bruce Bartlett reported in the March 3rd, 2003, Washington Times that this hidden cost was $721 a year for each citizen. 

Edwards’ vote against tort reform on July 9th of last year perpetuates these costs, and he as yet to endorse mid-November tort reform measures all ready accepted by 3 Democrat senators. According to the Manhattan Institute, trial lawyers made $40 billion in 2002. They can profit up to 35%-40% of the cash award from trial judgments. One suit

against Blockbuster made $9.25 million for the lawyers and 3 discount coupons for each plaintiff. In West Virginia, a state of tight Democratic Party control, doctors have been driven to strike because their malpractice insurance costs about 60% of their income. Tort reform would result in trial lawyers getting a smaller percentage of the judgment?thus they oppose any changes.

The scheme works like this: Democrats write vague laws (and regulations when they control the Executive Branch), which must be “interpreted” in the courts. Trial lawyers bring cases on behalf of clients who push the envelope of credibility for these laws and regulations. If they win the case they give a small percentage to the client, and they pocket the rest?with a payoff to the Democratic Party. Liberals also justify this

process as “wealth redistribution” from fat cat corporations to “regular people”?which belies the fact that rich trial lawyers get a lion’s share of the judgment. The consumer is the ultimate loser as insurance costs and the price of goods and services are increased to pay the larger insurance premiums.

In many states, mostly those controlled by Democrat legislatures, tort laws make it easy for individuals, businesses and professionals (such as doctors) to be sued regardless of their responsibilities. Tort reform laws in some states have lead to lower insurance costs, as well as fewer “pass-along” expenses, like Medicare taxes, to the regular people. A surgeon in Florida can pay $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance. The same insurance in California is $70,000 where some award limits have been passed.

Currently, 70% of malpractice cases are found to be unjustified, but in many states the plaintiff does not have to pay costs, and losing plaintiffs do not have to cover the costs of defendants whom they sue unsuccessfully.

Insurance companies may also settle with plaintiffs, if the settlement is substantially less than defense costs. General Motors paid $4.5 billion for employee health care last year?more than the giant auto maker paid for steel, much of it to pay doctors’ malpractice insurance. Congress just raised Medicare payments to doctors by $49 billion over the next 10 years, mostly to help defray malpractice insurance costs.  That’s $49 billion out of the taxpayer’s pockets.

And to show his disregard for the “regular people” who pay Medicare taxes, Edwards declared himself a corporation of one. He escaped $290,000 in Medicare payments the 2 years before he ran for the Senate, according to political columnist Robert Novak in a March 1st expos?. Edwards paid himself $10 million in dividends those two years with no Medicare taxes?which had to be made up by “regular people.” Edwards’ campaign theme is “two Americas.” In a sense this is true?it’s trial lawyers against the rest of us. Artificial inflation inspired by massive lawsuits, and inevitable Medicare tax increases due to blocked tort reform, are our “pain and suffering.”