For example, back in 2002, a Texas group called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) in Weslaco organized a “Doctor’s Walkout” in the Rio Grande Valley to push for legislative restrictions on patients’ rights to sue malpracticing physicians (which, of course, eventually happened. ) As the Center for Justice & Democracy showed in its 2000 report The CALA Files: The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights, CALA groups were and are part of a corporate-backed network of front groups that have received major financial and strategic assistance from organizations linked to Big Tobacco.
Polling has always been one of the activities of these front groups. For example, early on, they decided – correctly - that everyday folks have no clue what “tort reform” actually means. (If you check out the film Hot Coffee, it’s apparent that 25 years after the founding of the American Tort Reform Association, no one still knows what “tort reform” means.) But they figured something else out – everyone understands the words “lawsuit abuse.” Didn’t matter that the so-called “reforms” they advocated, like capping compensation, had nothing whatsoever to do with abusive lawsuits since they only kicked in after a seriouly injured person won their case.
As CJ&D found, the “lawsuit abuse” message may have been first cooked up back in the early 1990s via a South Texas survey commissioned by the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation and TPPF’s Center for Lawsuit Reform. (TPPF, by the way, continues to pop up in the news, most recently in support of its tainted corporate allies, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which we last covered here. ) The TPPF survey, conducted by President Bush's 2004 pollster Jan van Lohuizen, determined that the issue of “lawsuit abuse” polled well with 67 percent of the south Texas residents surveyed. Compared to other campaigns, the study reported, “this level of awareness is quite high.”
So not surprisingly, dozens of “Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse” groups then started popping up around the country, organized by ATRA’s PR firm, APCO. (Read all about it here.) The money trail from many of them led directly to large corporate donors. This included the tobacco industry, which would funnel money through the Washington DC law firm Covington & Burling – current home anti-jury corporate lawyer Phil Howard, who we’ve covered before, like here.
What’s this all have to do with today, you may ask? Well just last week, Media Matters found a priceless Fox News clip where conservative pollster Frank Luntz instructed a physician to get in line, stop using the phrase “tort reform” and use “lawsuit abuse reform” instead. Surprised he didn’t go one step further and tell him to just join his local Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse group, where his interests would be well-represented alongside those of cigarette companies. Better yet, why not create a new group called Doctors and Cigarette Companies Against Lawsuit Abuse? No sense beatin' around bush.