09 March 2005

Special interests get a seat at the table

The Republican governor of California constantly pledges to remove special interests from government. Unfortunately, his counterpart in Florida is doing the opposite. Special interests in Florida are here to stay, and now they are calling the shots. Florida government is for sale, and we have a buyer.

Over the weekend and days preceding the 2005 Legislative Session, the local airwaves were overloaded with commercials attacking the GOP's favorite bogeyman, trial lawyers. A shadow organization, called the Florida Justice Reform Institute, is paying for commercials which blame everything from high prices to the recent tsunami on Florida's trial lawyers. Of course, the accusations against trial lawyers are never accompanied by any factual evidence, but since lawyers are among the most hated of professions, the attacks are effective.

The commercials appeared to be part of an independent campaign by a private special interest group until Tuesday at lunchtime. This was when both chambers of the Florida Legislature met in the House chamber to hear Governor Bush's State of the State address. In his speech, the governor offered many political promises, but one portion sounded all too familiar. He referenced a recent survey of corporate lawyers by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a pet project of the big business lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which names which state legal systems favored corporations over individuals. According to the Chamber, Florida's legal system has become more consumer-friendly as opposed to corporate-friendly, and the Governor stated that this needs to change.

Just a coincidence? Maybe not. At 5:18 PM on the day of Governor Bush's speech, the Republican Party of Florida sent a global email announcing the "Lawsuit Abuse Reform Rally" and inviting recipients to join the "Florida Chamber of Commerce in supporting the Florida Justice Reform Institute." OK, fine. This is not a coincidence.

Between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, and the Florida Justice Reform Institute, there is obviously a connection. And the fact that the governor is peddling their product during his State of the State speech offers proof that special interests are calling the shots in Tallahassee.


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