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AG Miller Denounces Report Ranking Him Among Friendliest to Trial Lawyers’ Agenda PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 28 October 2011 05:20

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller ranks second in the nation for receiving campaign money from lawyers in the past five years and is among the friendliest to trial lawyers’ agenda, according to a report released October 25 by a conservative think tank.

But Miller denounced the report as inaccurate and called it a “cheap shot” from a corporate interest group. He said that campaign-finance data citing $338,223 in contributions in three weeks came from a discredited report, that claims about him keeping a low profile are “ridiculous,” and that more-favorable data about Iowa’s business climate are “conveniently omitted.”

“If the Center for Legal Policy were subject to Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act, we’d probably bust them because of their outright misrepresentations,” Miller told IowaPolitics.com. “This report is riddled with misrepresentations and omissions of important facts.”

Iowa is one of eight states targeted in the report by the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative New York think tank that promotes economic choice and individual responsibility. The report emphasizes the cozy relationships between state attorneys general and trial lawyers since Mississippi trial lawyer Richard Scruggs in 1994 proposed suing the tobacco companies.

Miller, a Democrat, is America’s longest-serving state attorney general. He was elected in 1978 and is serving in his eighth four-year term. James Copland, director of the Center for Legal Policy, said that while Miller is highlighted in the report, there’s no evidence of him being involved in pay-to-play like other attorneys general are.

“The amount of money that flew into his coffers after mortgage litigation was extraordinary,” Copland said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com. “Clearly, he’s been a more activist attorney general than we might appreciate. ... He makes some decisions that aren’t business friendly.”

The Manhattan Institute report said Miller received 44 percent of his campaign cash from attorneys between 2006 and 2010, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit that looks at the influence of campaign money on state-level elections and public policy in all 50 states.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, ranked first in the report at 45 percent.

But Miller said the National Institute on Money in State Politics report issued earlier this year is “outright false” and has been discredited. He said in his last campaign, he enjoyed support from Iowa citizens, including Iowa attorneys, as well as from lawyers outside the state.

Tuesday’s report also describes Miller as keeping a fairly low profile over the past three decades until he recently assumed control of the state lawsuits challenging mortgage foreclosures, leading to campaign donations from tort lawyers and others.

Miller called this claim “ridiculous.” He said he was the leader in the national 2002 Household Finance case that recovered $485 million for homeowners, the 2002 antitrust case in which Microsoft agreed to pay $28.6 million to states, and the 2006 Ameriquest case that recovered nearly $300 million for homeowners.

“This report makes a ridiculous claim that I have kept a low profile over the years prior to the current nationwide mortgage-foreclosure case,” he said. “I have devoted much of my career working zealously for Iowa consumers, and consumers across the country.”

The Manhattan Institute report calls cash contributions to Miller in 2010 a “case study.” It started September 24, 2010, when Miller announced an investigation of Ally Financial, an automobile mortgage lender affiliated with General Motors. That was followed within two weeks by expanded inquiries into Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Miller then announced he was coordinating his investigation with other state attorneys general.

On October 13, 2010, Miller assumed control of a 50-state attorneys-general action. The report said Miller received $338,223 in campaign contributions between that day and Election Day 2010.

The report also says that between September 30, 2010, and the November 2, 2010, election, Miller received more than $170,000 from out-of-state law firms. Among those donating were three New York-based plaintiffs’ securities-law firms: Kirby McInerney ($25,000), Kaplan Fox ($11,000), and Milberg LLP ($7,500). Each of those firms is involved in its own private mortgage-related lawsuit.

“During the campaign I made no promises and offered no favors to anyone who contributed,” Miller said. “The contributions by the firms this report cites have absolutely no bearing on the nationwide multi-state foreclosure case.”

Miller pointed out that in his 2010 re-election campaign against Republican Brenna Findley, who is now the legal counsel for Governor Terry Branstad, there was a “$2.2-million avalanche of outside money” used against him, and he was outspent two-to-one.

“This report failed to disclose that my opponent and outside groups spent an unprecedented $2.2 million against me in an Iowa attorney general’s race,” Miller said. “While most of these unidentified donations were secret, undoubtedly much of this money came from corporate interests, which are clearly the Manhattan Institute’s bedfellows.”

Andrew Mertens, communications director for the Iowa Association for Justice (a group of about 1,000 attorneys formerly known as the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association), said Iowa trial attorneys haven’t played heavily in a single one of Miller’s campaigns.

Mertens said Miller is representing consumers against corporations at the national level, so of course “corporate front groups like the Manhattan Institute” – which he called “a well-known defender of corporate negligence and misconduct” – would go after the attorney general.

“These bogus reports are recycled year after year,” Mertens said. “The Manhattan Institute is a front group for the insurance industry, the oil industry, and Wall Street banks. They’re funded by some of the corporations that led us into the financial crisis and then exploited it for financial gain.”

Davenport attorney Bob Waterman, president of the Iowa State Bar Association (a voluntary organization of more than 7,900 lawyers and judges), said there’s no evidence to support the report’s allegations of some alliance between trial lawyers and state attorneys general.

“We have always found Iowa’s office of attorney general to be fair and above-board in all our dealings with it,” Waterman said. “Furthermore, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is the longest-serving [attorney general] in the U.S. for a reason. Iowa voters have chosen to re-elect him based on his performance.”

Copland said the Manhattan Institute is a conservative, market-oriented think tank generally suspicious of litigation. The report is largely critical of Democrats but labels one Republican – Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff – as one of the eight attorneys general friendliest to the plaintiffs’ bar’s litigation agenda.

Other Republicans are mentioned in the report. However, Copland said they aren’t identified as being among the worst because some are no longer in office, while others were recently elected.

The report says Iowa was one of 10 states to receive failing grades from the American Tort Reform Association, a national organization exclusively dedicated to reforming the civil-justice system.

In addition, Iowa was not among the states that enacted reforms similar to the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act (proposed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council), which mandates public disclosure of contractual relationships between private lawyers and states.

But Miller said a survey by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, which aims to call attention to the high price of America’s civil-justice system, last year ranked Iowa the fifth highest among state liability systems. He said the Manhattan Institute report “conveniently omitted any reference to Iowa’s high ranking for business.”

This article was produced by IowaPolitics.com. For more stories on Iowa politics, visit RCReader.com/y/iapolitics.

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