Sunday, January 25, 2009

National corporations attempt to influence Georgia public policy

Last Thursday,The Macon Telegraph published a Letter to the Editor by Lawrence J. McQuillan, the Director of the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) in San Francisco, commending the Governor for introducing so-called "tort reform" and for proposing complete immunity for pharmaceutical corporations.

It's no surprise that PRI is a private organization funded by large pharmaceutical corporations, big tobacco and oil companies... Of course they want immunity. Immunity would allow them to be negligent and get away with it. It's like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for the real world.

PRI is responsible for one of the more bogus annual reports concerning the Civil Justice System-- The U.S. Tort Liability Index. Each year they rank states according to their tort laws and their tort costs. To the PRI, high tort costs equate with an unhealthy business climate. In 2008 the PRI ranked Georgia 27th in the nation for tort costs. A couple of months later, CNBC in its America's Top Business Report ranked Georgia as 8th in the nation. Shortly thereafter, Forbes Magazine ranked Georgia the third best state in the nation for developing new biomass industry. Why would CNBC and Forbes give Georgia such great rankings if we really had an unhealthy business climate like the PRI stated?

PRI reached such a skewed ranking of our state because of the completely inaccurate methods they use to research. In July of 2008, AAJ released a report debunking PRI's research and research methodology. The report cites an analysis by three leading academics that the PRI's "tort tax" claims are "without scientific merit and present a very misleading picture of the American tort system and its costs." According to the analysis, “Not one of the numbers included in the table of tort costs in the report comes from a ‘prestigious academic publication’ or was subject to peer review by independent experts.” In fact, the PRI cites themselves or the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) no less than 34 times in the footnotes.

Even if one were to take the report seriously, one would only have to look at Georgia's ranking to see that "tort reform" doesn't work. PRI ranks Georgia 27th in the nation for tort costs. Yet Georgia is ranked 4th in the nation for the best tort laws. Wouldn't conventional wisdom say that such great "tort laws" would lower the overall "tort costs?"

But they don't.

So-called "tort reform," like Governor Perdue is proposing, does nothing to lower costs-- just like it won't do a thing to create jobs. The PRI, and other "tort reform" organizations like to make these claims to provide a palatable reason for the general public while the corporations who fund them can lobby for legislation allowing them to allude accountability for wrongdoing in a fair court of law.

So while I may have been a bit surprised to see a Letter to the Editor in the Macon Telegraph from San Francisco (because honestly, how often do Georgia papers print letters from readers in San Francisco?), I am not surprised that the PRI is involved in this latest scheme to get Georgia to pass more "tort reform."

In fact, I would bet that there is more to come. I'll be on the look-out for more of these national, special interest organizations, like the PRI, to pop up here in Georgia. If history is any indication, they will all be working together to present a hefty PR campaign in this state to support the Governor's new "tort reform" package. GTLA will be vigilant in uncovering where their information comes from.

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