Ever wonder why the Republicans always have "tort reform" and anti-union "paycheck protection" on the top of their policy agenda? It's not because they care so much about "frivolous" lawsuits or because they give a damn about workers' wages going to their unions. It's because the Democrats and allied liberal causes have traditionally received their money from three sources -- wealthy individuals, labor unions, and trial lawyers.
"Well, of course!" the Republicans exclaim. "We know how to de-fund the left while still getting our cash from the realtors, big corporations, and big tobacco for our own campaigns."
Take a look at data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks campaign money.
Top 10 Donors to American Politics*
American Fedn of State, County & Municipal Employees $36,525,099
National Assn of Realtors $26,892,418
National Education Assn $25,084,791
Assn of Trial Lawyers of America $24,969,041
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $23,510,605
Communications Workers of America $23,411,374
Service Employees International Union $23,280,475
Laborers Union $22,797,707
Teamsters Union $22,495,792
Carpenters & Joiners Union $22,459,947
*Since 1989. Based on data released by the FEC on Tuesday, October 11, 2005.
The Republicans' futile efforts to pass "paycheck protection" laws in California a few weeks ago was hidden in a public message that said unions should have to get permission each year from their workers to use dues for political causes. Without the ability to raise money for politics, the unions would be rendered politically impotent. Yet we didn't see any such noble-minded argument by Governor Schwarzenegger and his GOP friends to require corporations to get permission from each shareholder before spending money to influence elections. No level playing field is necessary for workers and their representatives.
Likewise, the Republican Party consistently plays to their corporate friends who loathe the trial lawyers. Tort reform accomplishes two things. First, it curtails the ability of responsible plaintiffs lawyers to keep bad actors in check and keep a somewhat level playing field for individuals hurt by malfeasance. The need to preserve the balance that plaintiffs lawyers give is especially important in a time when the Bush Administration and a one-party Congress will do nothing to regulate those same bad actors unless a crisis like Enron forces them to do so. Second, constant calls for tort reform keep the corporate trough filled for Republicans while reducing the amount of money that trial lawyers have to support Democratic candidates. A great two-fer for the GOP!
Balance is important, and while I believe there is too much money in candidates' campaigns, cutting two out of three of the Democratic Party's sources of income is a brilliant political strategy for the GOP. Don't you think the Republicans already have enough power? They don't.