Since 1991, "tort reform" advocates have set up dozens of tax-exempt groups in at least 18 states (currently there are 26 active groups) with consumer-friendly names like Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Stop Lawsuit Abuse, Lawsuit Abuse Watch, and People for a FAIR Legal System. These groups are known as "CALAs."
While CALAs represent themselves as grassroots citizens groups, and they say they are sustained by small donations from ordinary citizens, they actually represent major corporations and industries seeking to escape liability for the harm they cause consumers. The money trail from these groups leads directly to large corporate donors, including tobacco, insurance, oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, medical associations, and auto manufacturers. They are also funded by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), as well as professional associations, local businesses and industries that also wish to be shielded from consumer lawsuits.
The tobacco industry has spent millions of dollars a year (and in at least one year $15 million) supporting ATRA, state CALAs, and other activities to weaken tort laws in many states. In some cases, CALAs, such as the one in Louisiana, were virtually created by the tobacco industry. Tobacco money has gone directly to ATRA, APCO, and state organizations. It has also been indirectly funneled to the cause through law firms, such as the Washington, D.C. firm Covington & Burling, trade associations and lobbyists.
ATRA helped take the CALA campaign statewide in Texas, then nationwide. The CALA blueprint was honed in South Texas in the early 1990s. The CALAs' strategy and message has been coordinated by ATRA and its public relations consultant APCO Associates, which supply the groups with strategic guidance, media training, and pre-produced radio, television, print advertising and billboards designed for maximum media exposure and legislative impact. Other regional and national political consultants and polling firms has helped tailor the CALA message to local concerns.
George W. Bush, who raised over $4 million in his gubernatorial races from organizations and individuals associated with two major "tort reform groups" in Texas, has been one of Texas CALA's most prominent champions. One of Bush's first acts as governor in 1995 was to meet with representatives of nine Texas CALAs after which he declared a legislative "emergency" on "frivolous lawsuits." Governor Bush subsequently signed into law a series of brutal "tort reform" measures.
Although CALAs are tax-exempt non-profit organizations prohibited from endorsing candidates or contributing to campaigns, they try to exercise considerable electoral influence, often in coordination with local business associations and Political Action Committees. One focus since the mid-1990s has been to ensure the election of pro-industry state judges and the defeat of judges who typically support plaintiffs' verdicts or have voted to strike down state tort law restrictions as unconstitutional.
The CALA message is a sly deception designed to appeal broadly to patriotic, hard-working Americans, many of whom will ultimately serve on juries. At its core, the message equates the efforts of injured consumers to recover damages from those responsible with "lawsuit abuse." Unfortunately, many jurors around the country have been influenced by this erroneous message due to the marketing campaign of ATRA, APCO and the CALAs, and as a result, statistics reflect juries' increasingly antagonistic attitude toward injured plaintiffs.