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Tort Reform and the 2014 Midterm Elections

— November 4, 2014

In the 2014 midterm elections, campaign issues have ranged from immigration to healthcare, and from the military to education.  Though it remained largely on the sidelines, tort reform remained a central issue for some candidates. Here, we will outline the role that tort reform has played in a few races this election cycle.

First, the Kentucky US Senate rate.  During a 90-minute debate at the Kentucky Farm Bureau headquarters, incumbent Republican candidate Mitch McConnell “touted his support for tort reform and noted that trial lawyers have poured money into [opponent Alison] Grimes’ coffers” (Politico) – claims yet to be substantiated.

Next, Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson.  This Republican candidate pledged he would “push for a constitutional amendment on tort reform if he wins the Nov. 4 election.” (Arkansas News Bureau)

Though the state Supreme Court shot down measures that would place caps on damages plaintiffs may be compensated in 2011 and 2012, Republican legislators there last year “filed two rival measures to refer to voters proposed constitutional amendments on tort reform, but both measures failed to clear a joint House and Senate committee.”  Twice now, that state’s Supreme Court has asserted legislators are overstepping their bounds.

Questioned thoroughly, Mr. Hutchinson failed to provide any detail about what a tort reform amendment would look like.  Hutchinson made these remarks at a news conference flanked by members of the conservative lobbying group, The National Federation of Independent Businesses, an organization that rated his US congressional voting record at 98 percent (compared with a 56 percent rating for his Democratic challenger, Mike Ross).

“Ross spokesman Brad Howard said in a statement Tuesday, ‘As a former small business owner, Mike Ross has consistently earned praise from NFIB for his strong support and advocacy for small businesses in Arkansas. In fact, he received their highest honor — the Guardian of Small Business Award — both in 2010 and 2012.’

Howard added, ‘Congressman Hutchinson is quick to amend the constitution on tort reform, but consistently opposed amending the constitution to raise the state’s minimum wage for working families. This is the latest example of an out-of-state group desperately trying to save Congressman Hutchinson’s campaign and trying to stop Mike Ross’ momentum.’” (Arkansas News Bureau)

Unfortunately, Hutchinson’s evidently toothless plan to amend the constitution – so toothless it is unclear as to whether he wants to amend the US or Arkansas constitution – cannot be vetted due to lack of specificity.  Let’s see what another group of thinks about tort reform: Texans for Education Reform.

This lobbying organization has put its muscle behind a number of Texas candidates, largely those supporting a legislative package including “measures to encourage the growth of online education and charter schools” (Texas Tribune).  Recently, Texans for Education Reform formed a political action committee called TER PAC.

“TER PAC’s treasurer is listed as Doug Foshee, who is the former CEO of El Paso Corporation, which was among the largest producers of natural gas in North America until another energy company acquired it in 2011. Foshee is also a trustee of the Houston-based KIPP charter school network.

He is one of many Texas political and business leaders who sit on the group’s board, including homebuilder and tort reform champion Dick Weekley, Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC chairman Dick Trabulsi, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and former Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, a Plano Republican who stepped down in 2011. El Paso businessman Woody Hunt and hedge fund manager Salem Abraham, who is a longtime member of the Canadian Independent School District’s board, are also among its supporters.” (Texas Tribune)

Again, the reasons for TER PAC’s support of tort reform remain unclear.  Let’s try again.

The Koch-funded super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, published an ad bashing Iowa Democratic US Senate candidate Bruce Braley, supporting tort reform, including “chickens who fear taking advantage of an open gate in their coop, lest they be sued by Representative Bruce Braley.

The chickens, who seem to be fans of tort reform, are part of a continuing story that broke this year after Mr. Braley was said to have threatened legal action when his neighbor’s chickens wandered onto his vacation property.” (New York Times)  The video states “We need tort reform, not someone who wants to sue over chickens.”  Again, no specifics to be found.

Last, the Mississippi GOP Senate race.  There, according to Politico, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has put $100,000 into the Mississippi GOP Senate race, backing up its pledge to help Sen. Thad Cochran defeat a tea party opponent in the June 3 primary election.

The powerful business lobby cut that big check to Mississippi Conservatives PAC on May 5, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Headed by Republican National Committee official Henry Barbour, the PAC has already spent nearly $700,000 helping Cochran in his race against state Sen. Chris McDaniel.”

In an interview with Politico earlier this year, Chamber of Commerce strategist Scott Reed explained his group would “‘strip the bark off’ McDaniel in coordination with Mississippi Conservatives PAC. In April, the Chamber ran TV ads attacking McDaniel on the issue of tort reform.”

Henry Barbour, explained “[the Corchran campaign] ran a strong TV ad statewide that exposed Chris McDaniel as a self-serving trial lawyer who argued Mississippi’s tort reform is unconstitutional. And that is the same tort reform that the U.S. Chamber helped make happen when Haley was governor.” Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is the uncle of Henry Barbour.  No specifics were given regarding proposed tort reform legislation.

As votes are tallied today, check back here for updates regarding tort reform and the 2014 midterm elections.

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