For all the concern about money in politics, in the final analysis nothing is more important to movers and shakers in Washington, D.C., than having relationships that provide access to decision-makers. And no relationship is so powerful as being the friend of the president.
So who the chief executive hangs out with can be a question of national importance. Alarm bells will ring should Democrat Barack Obama take the oath of office in January and then have regular visits from Tony Rezko or Bill Ayers, the Chicago slumlord/influence peddler and the unrepentant terrorist bomber, respectively. The same can be said of Republican John McCain, though the friends of concern in his case are the senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, and class-action trial lawyer John Coale, a prominent Hillary Clinton backer who has now come over to the GOP candidate.
Graham is the most prominent Senate advocate for a McCain presidency, while Coale has long been among the first tier of class-action trial lawyers who have become fabulously wealthy and politically powerful in recent decades by pursuing headlines and multimillion-dollar settlements from Fortune 500 corporations.
Coale recently boasted to The New York Sun that “Lindsey Graham, who is very close to John McCain, has voted against tort reform for a long time. As a trial lawyer, we consider Lindsey Graham one of us. He has influence with John McCain and one of the really good things about John McCain is he will listen.”
What Coale wants Graham to get McCain to listen to is the trial lawyers’ case against tort reforms, commonsense changes in the law designed to reign in out-of-control attorneys such as the recently imprisoned William Lerach and Melvyn Weiss of the infamous Milberg Weiss law firm, and Richard “Dickie” Scruggs. Like Coale, Scruggs was a leader in the class-action lawsuits against Big Tobacco that resulted in multibillion-dollar paydays for trial lawyers.
Coale is also a longtime friend of former President Bill Clinton, who at the urging of Lerach vetoed the Private Securities Reform Act of 1995. Congress overrode Clinton and the law established some much-needed limits on class-action securities litigation.
But recent events such as the Justice Department’s prosecutions of Lerach, Weiss and Scruggs make clear that PSRA was only a good start.
Change really will be at hand if new PSRA-type reforms are approved following a congressional investigation of the corrupt culture of witness and plaintiff bribery, fraudulent damages claims and intimidating corporations into settlements that mainly enrich trial lawyers. Coale’s plan to use Graham to influence McCain against such an outcome should raise multiple red flags for anybody who cares about the integrity of the judiciary.