Say the words “$100 million” and what comes to mind? The amount of money saved by 57 corporate executive last year thanks to the Bush tax cuts? Mitt Romney’s August fundraising haul? The asking price for the most expensive apartment in New York City, a “penthouse in midtown-Manhattan that boasts three floors of living space, panoramic views of the city, six bedrooms, nine bathrooms and a wine room for 1,000 bottles”? Anything remotely connected to the 99 percent of the over 300 million people who live in America? (Rhetorical question.)
On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “tort reform” lobbying arm thinks the views of corporate lawyers for $100 million companies are the only people worth asking when ranking states they like and don’t like, even though most of them know absolutely nothing about the states they are “ranking.” The Chamber ranks these states for no apparent reason other than to pit states against each another - a tactic to pressure lawmakers to enact state laws stripping the legal accountability of corporations that hurt or kill people. And they blatantly lie about whether a state’s tort laws has anything at all do with where a company decides to locate its business.
For example, check out our coverage of the “less public” survey by business powerhouse lobby group, NFIB, which we covered last year:
Well, we decided to see what businesses themselves really think about this argument, as opposed to their lobbyists and PR spokespeople. If any sector of the business world were going to care about this, it would have to be small businesses, right? So we checked out the most recent “Small Business Problems & Priorities” survey issued by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a “small business” lobby group that is one of the Chamber’s closest allies in their fight to limit corporate liability for wrongdoing. We started to look down the list of 75 issues that are important to NFIB’s members. And we looked. And we looked. Finally, we hit #65: “Cost and Frequency of Lawsuits/Threatened Lawsuits.” That’s right, this issue ranked 65 out of a possible 75 matters that small businesses care about, just below "Solid and Hazardous Waste Disposal."
Oh sure. The 65th most important issue to businesses (not taxes, labor laws, energy costs, or 64 other things) is dictating where businesses decide to locate. Well, we know that’s a myth, and as we’ve noted many times, people who actually know about a state’s legal system – people like judges, and scholars (like Theodore Eisenberg, Professor of Law and Adjunct Professor of Statistical Sciences at Cornell) - have launched withering critiques of this nonsense. Here is some of what Eisenberg has said about these Chamber “rankings”:
• “The survey is methodologically flawed and provides little useful information for states assessing their liability systems or for businesses considering investment in states or in the United States. The survey lacks elementary social scientific objectivity and incorrectly characterizes state law. Objectively verifiable responses are correct less than 10% of the time. Respondents ignore legal rules and material events within states.”
• “The Chamber's survey violates the elementary principle that evaluation of legal system performance should be based on input from both sides to disputes,” noting the obvious: “asking only one side to a dispute about a system will yield biased results.”
• Compounding this bias is the fact that respondents are first told of the prior year's results, and are provided monetary incentives.
• Even when one of those states changes its laws to strip consumers or patients of legal rights (such as Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia), these states continue to rank "low," which is "consistent with evidence from other states that respondents know little about the states they rank."
What's more, Eisenberg finds that the most damaging effects of these Chamber surveys likely are “on our whole country’s fiscal and physical well-being.” That’s because “U.S. businesses invest largely based on criteria more relevant to their decisions than the Chamber's claims about state legal systems. [This survey] creates false impressions about states and the United States that may discourage foreign investment” and “may also unnecessarily endanger the public safety by decreasing tort law’s deterrent effect.”
In other words, if I were one of those 99 percenters, I’d be pissed.