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How Trial Lawyers Team With Leftist Activists to Hurt Consumers

Dec 9, 2021

It’s a topic that few people know about, but that has far-reaching consequences.

Trial lawyers across the country are cozying up to the left, advancing their radical agendas while lining their pockets with government money. The result? The average consumer pays the price.

“It affects [consumers] in part because you’ve got governments handing out big-deal contracts to politically active people on probably the wrong side of the aisle,” says O.H. Skinner, executive director of Alliance for Consumers. “And I think that alone should be something that people pay attention to.”

“But on a basic level,” Skinner adds, “these contracts are the kind of things where there’s millions of dollars that are often not tied to individual cases, not tied to case outcomes, where consumers get money.”

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Skinner joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss how widespread the relationship between trial lawyers and the left is, as well as offer solutions for conservatives.

We also cover these stories: 

  • President Joe Biden says he won’t unilaterally send U.S. troops to defend Ukraine from a Russian invasion. 
  • The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol will pursue contempt charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for failing to appear for a deposition.
  • California is positioning itself to be an abortion sanctuary if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Doug Blair: Our guest today is the executive director for Alliance for Consumers, O.H. Skinner. Alliance for Consumers is a nonprofit organization that promotes best practices for everyday consumers. O.H., welcome to the show.

O.H. Skinner: Thanks for having me. I appreciate being here.

Blair: Let’s talk about something that maybe doesn’t get a lot of attention, but is incredibly important. I had not been informed about any of this before I was reading your work, but this is the close relationship between trial lawyers and the radical left. So, let’s start out with a basic kind of barometer here. How widespread are these types of relationships?

Skinner: Oh, they’re massive. And let me just say, Alliance for Consumers argues in a lot of different areas for how to get more money into consumers’ pockets. And one of the biggest problems we’ve come across is this exact problem. We call it the shady trial lawyer pipeline, but you’re starting to see it on Capitol Hill now too.

And the basic function is where government bureaucrats, elected officials have found ways to partner with trial lawyers, often under the guise of helping consumers or fighting for consumers, but the end result is a weak arrangement where the trial lawyers walk away with bags of money. And they just conveniently then are funneling bags of money back into left-wing political campaigns, political committees.

A great example of this is the law firm Morgan Morgan. This is just an easy vignette into this world. This is a big law firm. They have a couple hundred lawyers. You’ll see their billboards all across the East Coast when you’re driving up and down highways. You’ll see their ads on TV in a lot of states.

So, over just the last four-year election cycle, kind of midterm in general, the firm was responsible, the employees, for $4 million of political donations, just at the federal level. So, that’s double all the employees of Twitter during the same time frame from this—it’s a relatively little law firm, if we’re being honest.

And 99% of the donations were to liberal committees, liberal campaigns, liberal efforts. This is the kind of place where one check from $355,000 goes from the firm’s founder to Biden victory. …

They spent, as a firm, almost $2 million into Joe Biden’s campaign efforts. And then when Biden wins the presidency, they fly the president’s brother to the inauguration on the firm jet while they’re trying to get him to come and work for them. So, we’re talking a 99% commitment level.

And the numbers change when you go across these different firms. There’s other firms across the country. But you’ll see the same thing. It’s 99%, 98%, 97.5% of their federal donations are going to left-wing committees. And then they have a web of political action committees that do the same thing, 98%, 99%. So, the depth of it, the breadth of it is huge.

And they’re feeding that off of government money. They want to make money and be leftists. That’s their business. But what’s really crazy is how often they’re able to capture public money and feed it into their little machine.

So, the most salient example right now that I’m sure you’re familiar with is in the House-passed Build Back Better plan, there’s a $2.5 billion giveaway to trial lawyers. It’s a deductibility provision that basically says normally, they would front expenses for a case, and they’re only ever allowed to deduct them if, at the end of the case, they don’t win anything. Otherwise, they’re getting paid back. It’s not an actual expense. Well, this says, “No, you can deduct it right away, regardless if you get paid back in the future, regardless of whether you actually make millions of dollars off the case, you can just deduct it right now.”

Joint Committee on Taxation says that’s $2.5 billion. And that’s the kind of just straight-up giveaway to trial lawyers that you see. This is one of the most egregious examples. It arrives on Capitol Hill, and it’s measured in the billions.

But why are they doing that? It’s this “follow the money” … they know that trial lawyers are going to give 99% of their political donations back into liberal committees and liberal causes. They’re going to give money to [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s PAC. They’re going to give money to [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer’s PAC. And so, that’s at the federal level.

And then at the state level, it’s these giveaway contracts to go and sue a company under the guise of consumer protection. And they often, it’s just a couple pages. It looks like it was written by the lawyers themselves. It has almost no conflicts provisions. Sometimes there’s no end date on a contract; it’s just all cases brought during a certain time frame. And that feeds millions and millions of dollars into this shady trial lawyer pipeline.

So, I mean, the scale of this relationship is huge. The amounts in question are huge. And the level of commitment—I mean, it’s very hard to find other industry groups, maybe short of teachers unions, who are going to give 99% or 98% of their money.

So, when you think about these trial lawyers and what they’re doing, I think you’ve got to think about the equivalent of, this is another teachers union-style apparatus. But this one, maybe a little bit like teachers unions, has found ways to get government bureaucrats to give them contracts, funnel taxpayer money, give them $2.5 billion federal giveaways that feed this political money machine.

Blair: I mean, those numbers are insane. And one of the things that was really nagging me while you were talking about that, O.H., was that … teachers unions also give this much money to Democratic causes and it’s kind of an open secret. A lot of people are just like, “Oh, well, teachers unions give a lot of money to Democrats.” Why are trial lawyers so kind of under the radar, where I hadn’t heard of this before I’d started researching for this interview?

Skinner: I don’t have a great answer for that, other than that they’re a little bit more diverse and broke up in how they do their money, but I don’t have an answer.

I have always thought that this was a major consumer risk because you got to remember in the Build Back Better bill, they’re just taking all the taxpayers’ money. But in these relationships for states and cities, they’re taking money that’s supposed to be going to people who’ve been the victim of fraud or the victim of some sort of consumer harm, and they’re funneling that money out the door.

And so, from our perspective, that’s how we got onto this, is this is a giant suction of money out of the consumers’ pockets and into just wildly political activity.

But I don’t know, they’ve managed to stay under the radar, but when you see the numbers, it’s the same. If you are aware of what teachers unions are doing with the money that they get out of governments, this is the same thing. I mean, you should think of them as one and the same. And they do the same functions. They give the same money.

I mean, the one thing I will say is, on top of all this money, there’s also, I would say, like an added cream filling for people like Nancy Pelosi. And that is that these law firms go out and they’re like foot soldiers on causes.

So, you’ve got law firms like Hagens Berman, which is a Seattle-based law firm, they were the ones pitching all of the climate change litigation to sue major oil companies on behalf of Oakland, New York City. I mean, they’re doing that work for these cities.

You have law firms like Cohen Milstein that made themselves cause celebre by suing President [Donald] Trump over rulemakings that he did, suing him over his hotels, suing him over everything.

So, they are literally feeding money into the political apparatus on the left and serving as happy foot soldiers, bringing up climate change cases, working on guns cases, working whatever it is, if you can picture it.

Now, I guess somebody would say that teachers unions often are spreading the gospel of the left in classrooms, but I mean … you got to think of them as just the same in terms of what they’re doing.

Blair: Now, you mentioned that these are sort of happy foot soldiers for the left. I am curious, when you look at how trial lawyers are participating in propping up leftists and propping up Democrats, is this because they are true believers in these types of causes or is it because there is a financial incentive?

Skinner: Yeah. People ask me this all the time. I haven’t sat down and done enough podcast interviews with the big trial lawyers, but I’d tell you that, like many things in life, it’s both.

There’s some of these firms, like Cohen Milstein, there’s a firm in San Francisco called Lieff Cabraser, that are very proud of the liberal positions that they hold.

Cohen Milstein has hired Anita Hill, and she’s an of counsel to the firm. And they are super proud of promoting all of these various social causes that they fight on. That is just front and center for them, and in a way, that feels like they’re true believers. And in San Francisco, Lieff Cabraser is a massive champion on gay rights causes. And you can just read their website and understand that there’s true belief there.

When it comes to a firm like Morgan Morgan, I don’t know. I mean, John Morgan likes being a really big deal in Florida. And he promotes ballot initiatives that are for legalized marijuana and all sorts of things. So, maybe he’s a true believer, but he’s also gotten wildly rich off of these relationships.

And there’s firms like Motley Rice in South Carolina. This guy named Joe Rice got a 100-foot yacht and built a private golf course. That feels maybe more like he’s just found a really good system for himself.

So, I think you end up with both. I mean, the outcomes are the same in terms of the money and the commitment and who they’re partnering with, who they’re allying with, but the motivations, I think, do shift a little bit.

Blair: Interesting. Now, how long have we seen these types of relationships between trial lawyers and the left going on? Is this a relatively recent phenomenon or has this always been a thing?

Skinner: I think the relationship has been there for a long time, in part because the left is very fond of added regulations, added rules. And when you have more rules, more regulations, that opens up more ground for lawyers to sue. So, that’s a very basic level. That’s always been there.

But I think the thing that has really drawn our attention is the massive increase in the government contract side of this. And now, for the first time that I’ve seen, you’re seeing this direct federal giveaway, $2.5 billion giveaway, to trial lawyers. And I think that’s what’s really increased.

I mean, there was the tobacco litigation in the past. And then there was a drop-off. I mean, you didn’t see this sheer scale of contracts being handed out. To be clear, sometimes these contracts are being handed out by politicians on the right, not just on the left. But massive numbers of contracts being handed out to firms that are feeding this pipeline, the shady trial lawyer pipeline, of money back into politics.

So, they’ve always been on the left. It’s always been, to your question before, even if you’re not ideologically super into all of the things that the modern left is about, if you’re a trial lawyer, you know that one side’s going to make sure that you have a lot of things to sue over. They’re going to pass more environmental regulations or whatever it is, right?

But what you’re seeing now is just this massive uptake in the number of contracts where money that should be going to consumers, should be going to taxpayers, is going out the door. And then conveniently, those same people are funneling money back into left-wing politics, which creates this little lotto machine for them of, they get the money, they feed the money, they get more clients, who feed more money.

And it’s not good for consumers. Consumers should be getting more. These trial lawyers should probably be getting less.

There should probably be much stronger protections in these contracts. We write about this, you know, basic things like, if you have another case on the same topic or you’re representing another government, there should be ethics protections, and there’s almost never. And that’s a really dangerous thing for the public.

Blair: Right. Now, you’ve mentioned this a couple of times, that this is bad for consumers. I wonder if you could elaborate a little more on sort of why our listeners would be like, ” … How is this affecting me?”

Skinner: Right. So, well, for your listeners, it affects you in part because you’ve got governments handing out big-deal contracts to politically-active people on probably the wrong side of the aisle, for most of your listeners. And I think that alone should be something that people pay attention to.

But on a basic level, these contracts are the kind of things where there’s millions of dollars that are often not tied to individual cases, not tied to case outcomes where consumers get money. …

One of the famous things that these firms will do is they’ll get a government client with a big fee percentage, and then they’ll use the fact that they’re representing the government to massively increase the speed and value of a private case they have on the same topic. And then they will try to capture as much money as possible in the private case and leave the taxpayers with less, but don’t worry, they still get their fee. And that’s for the government contracts.

And then on the private side, you’ve got famous cases where they’ll sue over technology, they’ll sue Google, they’ll sue some tech company, and they’ll settle the case and say, “Well, we should take our fee of $2, $3, $4 million. But it’s really hard to get money to consumers, so instead what we’ll do is we’ll send the money to Harvard University, the ACLU, and some other privacy organizations that just happen to align with the law firm’s ideology and release 100 million people’s claims against Google.”

So, their actions are not designed to increase restitution to consumers. Their actions almost always manage to find a way where they get paid first, they get paid better, and they use their public contracts to make themselves richer on the private side.

They settle cases in a way—and there’s multiple little maneuvers they do, and surprise, surprise, at the end of most of their cases, especially for governments, they’re rich, maybe the bureaucrat got some money in their budget, and consumers often walk away with nothing. And that’s really what’s upsetting, because from a consumer-protection perspective, the one measurement that we use is, like, did you get people money back in their pockets? And that should be the goal of every case.

Blair: Right. I want to talk about a specific thing you’ve posted on the Alliance for Consumers website.

A press release on the website reads, “Alliance for Consumers found that trial lawyers are leveraging partnerships with state governments to line their pockets and fund left-wing political agendas while leaving consumers out in the cold. The law firm Motley Rice has become the poster child of this sort of relationship with Federal Election Commission filings showing $2.6 million in donations that almost all favor Democrat campaigns and progressive platforms over the last four years.”

It sounds a lot like what you were just describing. So, in this specific case, could you maybe break down what’s happening to our listeners?

Skinner: Yeah. So, Morgan Morgan is the poster child. Motley Rice, I don’t have the exact number. They’re in that zone of $2 million. But it’s the same thing. And Morgan Morgan has contracts with states and with local governments. And Motley Rice has contracts with states and local governments. And they sign up a bunch of these states and local governments.

They often will sign a contract that says, “We’ll bring litigation on all possible opioids cases or all possible cases related to some sort of car problem.” And they won’t have an end date on the contract. They won’t have any sort of provision that prevents the government from getting taken advantage of.

And then they’re, at the same time, funneling money. I think it’s Morgan Morgan gives to, like, 36 state Democratic parties. Motley Rice gives to lots of state Democratic parties. So, that’s just the straight example of, they sign up governments, they get these contracts with big paydays at the end, and every year, they’re funneling millions of dollars into Senate candidates, into House candidates, into Joe Biden.

And I’ll admit that for Morgan Morgan, Joe Biden was a cause celebre—$2 million. Motley Rice gives most of their money to Senate candidates. And they give a lot of their money to House candidates. But they all find ways to funnel the money into some arm of the left.

And they all give significant money to the American Association for Justice, which is the trial lawyer political action committee, which then feeds money to EMILY’s List to elect pro-abortion candidates, to Chuck Schumer’s PAC, to Nancy Pelosi’s PAC, to Eric Holder for redistricting.

So, I mean, the best way to think about this is, Motley Rice represents many states across the country. Morgan Morgan represents states and city governments. Cohen Milstein represents states. And the winnings from that feeds back into their political machine.

Blair: Right. So, it just creates a feedback loop.

Skinner: It’s just a feedback loop. And they’re giving to what I would say [are] very professionalized organizations. They’re giving to groups run by people like David Brock. They’re giving to Pelosi’s PAC, Schumer’s PAC. They’re giving to what I would call the professional organizations.

This isn’t some moderate House member, some person running for state House. This is truly into the Senate Majority PAC, EMILY’s List-type professional left … and they’re getting millions out of state contracts that helps feed that.

Blair: Interesting. It sounds like we’ve addressed that there is an issue. Here comes the hard part: What do we do? How do we address the issue?

Skinner: I think a really good example happened up in Montana. And it sounds so simple, but it’s very powerful. And this was an example of, [the] former attorney general was Republican. New attorney general is Republican. But slightly different mindset about how to protect consumers. Slightly different mindset about what it means to kind of live your values.

So, the new AG’s name is Austin Knudsen. And the guy comes in and within his first nine months in office, he looks at the fact that they have a contract with Motley Rice that was just, I think, maybe six pages long. And Motley Rice represents so many different states on these same opioids cases. And he decided that there were very weak provisions in there for the state, and that the state was really not getting a very good deal. So, he terminates the contract. …

And there was coverage on how it was a bad contract. It was a giveaway contract with almost no ethics protections. No basic time limit provision. No, like, we get the best fee of all the states. I mean, just no real protections. And he ends it. And that’s a real moment of being a champion for your state.

There’s organizations that will advocate for how states or cities or even people should just never sue. Alliance for Consumers, that’s not what we do. We talk about how important it is to get money back for consumers.

And there’s times when public officials need to sue people. But they should probably do it with some basic protections, some basic ethics protections, good governance provisions, make sure they’re getting a good deal, and make sure that they’re not just funneling money into a political operation because that’s not what people want when they’re electing somebody to go out and represent them.

So, what you see in Montana with General Knudsen, that’s real, that’s the beginning of real leadership. You’ve seen Steve Marshall, who’s the attorney general in Alabama, also quit the National Association of Attorneys General and cite the fact that there’s just way too many ties between that organization and trial lawyers.

And you’re starting to see elected officials recognize that partnering with these firms is the equivalent of partnering with a group like the ACLU. And if you wouldn’t do that and you wouldn’t let them write the contract for you, then you probably shouldn’t be letting these law firms write the contract for you. You probably shouldn’t be letting these law firms make sure that they end up with a really sweet deal.

And you should be picking and choosing to make sure that you’re picking people who aren’t just a part of a left-wing political operation that’s known for funneling money, because that doesn’t reflect well in your office in terms of how you’re dealing if you’re just giving money into a political operation.

Blair: One of the things that I noticed during that explanation is it was very focused on government. I’m curious if there’s a role for the consumer in how this plays out. Is there anything that the average consumer can do to make sure that these trial lawyers aren’t kind of up to—

Skinner: Yeah. I’ll admit that the class action system is not designed to allow individual consumers to have much, if any, voice. It’s a real problem. It’s why, honestly, government enforcement actions to make people whole is a much better way to do things, is because shockingly, elected officials are going to actually listen to people a lot better than an unelected trial lawyer and an unelected judge. It’s just the plain truth of it.

The No. 1 thing that consumers can do is be aware that when you see trial lawyers representing anybody in your state or in your government or when you see these billboards, you need to recognize that they are just an arm of the far left and that when they are getting money, they are normally feeding it back into a highly political little lotto machine. And there’s not a lot that consumers can do. Most consumers aren’t going to be suing somebody. …

I think a lot of it is informing your government, informing the people when you’re in your state about how … when you see these kinds of deals, they are equivalent to signing up the ACLU or some government official rolling over on a contract for the teachers unions.

It’s a little bit of the same thing on what do you do about teachers union issues? You can’t literally go and get rid of a teachers union, but you can make it very well-known in your community that doing favors for these teachers unions is doing a favor for left-wing political campaigns. And in a lot of areas, that’s no longer an acceptable thing. And that’s what we want to see with these trial lawyer arrangements, because when people recognize the political game, then it’s a lot easier to get everybody to start behaving better for consumers.

Blair: Right. As we wrap-up this interview, I want to give you the last word. If our listeners want to learn more about these types of relationships between trial lawyers and the left, if they want to learn more about how they can be informed, where should they go?

Skinner: Right. So, honestly, allianceforconsumers.org has a lot of materials that I’ve written. And the Twitter account @for_consumers. … We do a lot to try to educate and highlight the good and the bad. So, when people do great things, we highlight that. When there’s good consumer outcomes, we highlight that. And we talk a lot about things that should be getting a lot more attention. So, those are two great resources.

And then just internalize that when you see trial lawyer billboards, when you see trial lawyer TV ads, and when you see any one of your local or state governments signing up trial lawyers, know what it is. Know what it is. And know that there’s a reason that Nancy Pelosi slipped a $2.5 billion straight giveaway to these people in her House version of Build Back Better, right?

It is what it is, which is, this is just an ally of the left. And everything that they get feeds into a machine that puts money back into the left. And if you know that, then you’re a much more informed consumer and a much more informed voter. And that’ll help change all the dynamics in the space for consumers’ benefit.

Blair: Excellent. That was executive director for Alliance for Consumers, O.H. Skinner. Alliance for Consumers, again, is a nonprofit organization that promotes best practices for everyday consumers. O.H., thank you so much for joining us. I very much appreciated this conversation.

Skinner: Thanks for having me in.

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