Christian Coalition of Alabama Attacks Trial Lawyers -- and Tells a Whopper
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Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 09:05:37 PM EST
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The Christian Coalition of Alabama (CCA) is accusing trial lawyers, without any evidence, of funding an anti-Christian agenda through its contributions to judicial candidates. That's a whopper, and CCA knows it. CCA leader John Giles has surely not forgotten that he has criticized trial lawyers in The New York Times for contributing nearly a million dollars to the 2004 campaigns of three conservative Christian candidates for the Alabama Supreme Court. Those candidates advertised that they share the same judicial philosophy as former Alabama Chief Justice Roy S Moore, the "Ten Commandments" judge, who wants to remake America as a Christian nation.

So why is CCA engaged in a baseless smear campaign over judicial contributions? Maybe it's because the agenda that the CCA is pushing these days is not so much a pro-Christian agenda as a pro-corporate agenda. And maybe they're trying to distract conservative Christian voters from the fact that the CCA is embroiled in a scandal over its acceptance of $850,000 in contributions that trace back to one of the Indian tribal clients of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Back in 2000, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws had a problem. A rival tribe over the state line in Alabama planned to build a casino, and that would have cut into the Choctaw's gambling revenue. So the Choctaws hired a lobbyist -- Jack Abramoff -- to help them head off the competition. And as it turns out, the Choctaws' problem was solved, but the solution caused a whole new headache for CCA, which is still suffering from the effects today.

Abramoff reached out to his old friends Grover Norquist, leader of Americans for Tax Reform, and Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition, to help rile up support among religious right leaders. Norquist and Reed funneled money to the Christian Coalition of Alabama (CCA), and CCA retained Reed as a lobbyist. In February and March of 2000, Norquist directed $850,000 from the Choctaws to CCA. The CCA's anti-gambling campaign solved the Choctaw's problem with its rival Indian tribe.

But now CCA has an image problem. The Boston Globe revealed in an interview with Norquist that the money which fueled CCA's anti-gambling campaign in Alabama originated from one of Abramoff's gambling industry clients. The Abramoff scandal has resulted in Abramoff's conviction for conspiracy, wire fraud, and mail fraud. Abramoff has been sentenced to 70 months in prison. The scandal has also embroiled Norquist, Reed, and a number of religious right groups and leaders, including CCA.

Yet instead of returning the cash from the tribe with a casino and issuing an apology, the CCA is now engaged in self-righteous finger-pointing. Their target? The CCA is blaming trial lawyers for exercising their freedom of speech by making political campaign contributions. Now why would the CCA say a thing like that?

In a high-profile campaign headlined on its homepage, the CCA claims, "Trial lawyer political donations are undermining traditional family values." And in a flyer prepared for direct mail distribution, the CCA asserts, "Trial lawyers are attacking our Christian values." "Trial lawyers are behind the forces undermining our rights and beliefs." What rights and beliefs do they mean? CCA complains that trial lawyers -- through their perfectly legal, fully disclosed campaign contributions -- are funding legislators and judges who support reproductive freedom, marriage equality, and the teaching of science (and not religious dogma) in public school science classes. God bless trial lawyers who do contribute to all that; many Christians support those same freedoms and values.

But the remedy, according to CCA, is for Christians to tell judicial candidates not to accept campaign donations from trial lawyers "because of their anti-Christian agenda."

However, the CCA knows that trial lawyers do not have an anti-Christian agenda, and that in fact, Alabama trial lawyers contributed nearly a million dollars to three conservative Christian candidates for the Alabama Supreme Court in 2004. These three candidates campaigned on the fact that they share the same judicial philosophy as former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Judge Roy S Moore, the "Ten Commandments" judge. In November 2003, Moore was booted out of office by the unanimous decision of an ethics committee for refusing to remove a granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the statehouse rotunda. Moore's opponents contended that the former Alabama Chief Justice's actions undermined President Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state.

Moore attends the conservative CrossPoint Baptist Church in Gadsden, Alabama. He is now running for the Republican nomination to the governorship of Alabama. And, according to Bob Moser's recent report in The Nation, Moore is trailing by 30 percentage points. It remains to be seen whether his support has been undermined due to his close ties with the CCA, whose reputation with conservative Christian voters has suffered due to CCA's involvement in the Abramoff scandal. Moore was once among CCA's greatest champions; how the mighty have fallen.

But as Moser points out, Ralph Reed's political future is also on the rocks; and there are distinct signs of the end times for the former Christian Coalition leader, whose campaign for Georgia Lieutenant Governor can barely draw any news coverage that doesn't also mention Abramoff. Indeed, conservative Christians in Georgia are rejecting Reed; among likely Republican voters, 44 percent view him with disfavor, compared with only 39 percent who view him favorably.

When Reed left the Christian Coalition, he had driven it to the brink of financial ruin, and it was beset with lawsuits from its own former allies and employees. The Washington Post reported in a front-page story on April 10, 2006, that the once-powerful Christian Coalition is more than $2 million in debt, and has only one employee, who operates out of a house in Charleston, South Carolina. Reed drove the Christian Coalition to the brink of ruin, and then bailed, leaving others to clean up the mess.

But the mess is only getting bigger, thanks to Reed's follow-up career as a lobbyist who "humped" corporate money from Abramoff's clients. Reed used Christian right groups, including CCA, to the benefit of Abramoff's gambling industry clients. As a result, Reed and the friends he used, such as CCA, have lost credibility with their conservative Christian base. And CCA doesn't know how to fix its tarnished image. The problem is that religious right leaders' ties to Abramoff keep coming up.

Has CCA been caught in an outrageous smear campaign against trial lawyers? You bet. Did CCA's leader know that his charge that trial lawyers fund an anti-Christian agenda is false? Yes, and here's the evidence on a platter, from a New York Times article by Shaila K. Dewan, dated May 30, 2004:

[A] group of candidates in the June 1 Republican primaries in Alabama is scrambling to show devotion to Mr. Moore, who became a hero to many Christian conservatives last year when he refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the state courthouse. Mr. Moore is appearing in other people's campaign commercials. He is quoted in their brochures. And on the trail, candidates wear glinting lapel pins in the shape of two stone tablets.

The primary can be viewed as a test of support for Mr. Moore, who has not ruled out a run for higher office....

But the Business Council of Alabama, which supports Justice Brown, opposes the Moore slate. And the business council's traditional antagonists, the trial lawyers, have poured nearly $1 million into the coffers of the three Moore advocates running for the Supreme Court, said the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, a group in favor of tort reform....

John W. Giles, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said he was disappointed by the contributions. "I have told them all along that if they take this money they are no longer the Judge Roy Moore slate; they will be publicized as the personal injury trial lawyers' slate," he said. "These are very fine Christian people and they are my friends, but they're taking unclean money."

There you have it. CCA leader John Giles slams trial lawyers for contributing to conservative judicial candidates -- even Christian judges, even his own friends. And then he turns right around and blames the trial lawyers for funding an anti-Christian agenda. But he cannot have it both ways. He doesn't get to blame trial lawyers for funding conservative Christian judges in Alabama, and then accuse them of being anti-conservative and anti-Christian, too.

But is this really about religion, or is the CCA for hire to wealthy corporations who want to advance their own interests at the expense of consumers and injury victims? There's no evidence to support the CCA's claim that trial lawyers are behind an attack on America's traditional family values. But there is evidence that CCA is willing to take corporate contributions -- including money from an Indian tribe that operates a casino -- without asking too many questions about where it came from or whose interests are being advanced.

In its defense, the CCA states that "we bent over backwards to ensure that these funds were not from casinos or any other gambling interests." How odd that a group engaged in an anti-gambling campaign would even think to ask, repeatedly, pointedly, on the phone and in writing, whether a contribution to the campaign had in fact originated from a tribe with gambling interests. How odd that Norquist would have concealed the true origin and reason for the funds from the CCA. How odd that Reed would habitually devote such a large amount of his time, effort, and creativity in concealing the source of his client's funding by using an elaborate series of cut-outs, including religious front groups and even, in one case, a front group administered by a man named Robin Vanderwall, who has been convicted of soliciting sex with little boys and girls.

Is that all business as usual for Abramoff, Norquist, Reed, and the CCA? We may never know the whole story.

Jesus advised that one should pull the beam out of one's own eye before pointing out a speck of sawdust in a neighbor's eye. Right now, CCA cannot see clearly how to deal with its own image problem. So it is pointing fingers at attorneys who hold wrongdoing corporations accountable. Instead, the CCA should demonstrate a higher level of accountability with regard to its own murky contributions that originated from a client of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. CCA could begin by returning the $850,000 in contributions that originated from Abramoff's Indian tribal client, that funded CCA's anti-gambling campaign, and that limited competition in the gambling industry to the benefit of Abramoff's client.

The issue is not whether trial lawyers are anti-Christian. The CCA offers no evidence to support that smear. The question is why the CCA engaged in anti-competitive activity funded by a tribal client of Jack Abramoff to benefit the tribe's gambling interests.

This is not a story about Americans who are for or against Christianity. This is a story about Americans who believe in corporate accountability versus those who don't. If you're looking for a champion of corporate accountability, call a trial lawyer. If you're looking for a scold who is for hire to the highest corporate bidder, few questions asked, call the Christian Coalition of Alabama.

Jesus said, "Judge not that ye be not judged."

But as the Christian Coalition of Alabama would have it, thou shalt not have fair and impartial judges.

As Maryland State Senate candidate Jamie Raskin has said, judges place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. They don't place their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.

by jhutson on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 09:51:16 PM EST

Thanks, Jonathan, for keeping track of all this.

by Carlos on Sat Apr 15, 2006 at 07:31:02 PM EST

Ricky Scruggs, Trial Lawyer and Trent Lott's brother-in-law in Mississippi, made a billion from the tobacco industry settlement, portrayed in the movie, 'The Insider'.  

Now he is suing the insurance companies who aren't paying for Katrina damage.  Trent Lott is suing also.  

I don't think this Alabama smear campaign of trial lawyers will go over with Southerners whose lives have been drastically changed because of Katrina.

snip>>Dickie Scruggs
Enter Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, a Mississippi lawyer who has won billions in suits against tobacco and asbestos companies. He is suing several major insurance companies, including State Farm, Allstate and Nationwide. Scruggs said that although most of the hurricane damage was caused by "a combination of wind and storm surge," insurance adjusters are claiming that the losses are due solely to flooding, which is not covered by homeowners insurance.

Scruggs said he expects to file "tens of thousands of lawsuits" for homeowners along the Gulf Coast. Rather than a class-action suit, he said, the suits would be consolidated into "common issue" legal actions in which juries will render verdicts, and in which insurance companies could be ordered to pay the amount required under each individual policy. Scruggs is the brother-in-law of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

by camkate on Sat Apr 15, 2006 at 11:55:24 PM EST

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