JEFFERSON CITY – A little-used online tool that tracks trial lawyer and union donations to Missouri candidates for public office should be getting more attention than it does, a tort reform advocate said during a recent interview.
"People should be looking at that website to see who it is who is supporting a candidate to be sure that the candidate expresses their views as well," Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition Executive Director Richard AuBuchon told the St. Louis Record.
The online tool is the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry's "Money Trail," which "tracks contributions made by trial lawyers and labor organizations and gives voters a clearer view of the influence of these funds on Missouri politics," the chamber's website said.
Visitors to the site may select either trial lawyers or union donations.
The Missouri Chamber issued a news release about Money Trail last month, following an U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform report earlier in the year that said the state's legal climate ranks 44th in the nation.
"That means that Missouri is the 6th best state in the country for suing employers, and trial attorneys are willing to invest big to protect that cash flow," Missouri Chamber President and CEO Daniel P. Mehan said in a news release issued when the online tool was announced.
Data behind Money Trail is aggregated daily from the Missouri Ethics Commission website an included donations for all recipients of trial lawyer and union donations since the 2014 election cycle.
"Many of these trial attorneys have spent more on political campaigns than average working Missourians spend on a home – just to increase litigation in the state of Missouri," Mehan said in the news release. "Yet it’s the average working Missourian who pays the price of excessive litigation through lost access to quality health care, lost economic opportunities and increased costs of goods and services."
All donations to political candidates generally have a "negative connotation," AuBuchon said.
"That said, when you have a special interest group, like the Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers or a plaintiff's attorney who's interested in a certain subset of legislation, that draws an even further jaundiced eye upon the donations that may be received or made to legislators," he said. "So having transparency of any donations is a great thing for people to be able to track and understand the breadth of donations sent or received."
AuBuchon added that tracking campaign donations isn't always easy and has been made all the more difficult by Amendment 2 to Missouri's Constitution two years ago, which, among other provisions, imposed campaign contribution limits.
"It is my hope that those who are interested in support of their candidate, even a candidate in their district, that they will take a good, hard look at where their candidate is getting support and to ask the all-told question, if that candidate believes in the same mantra of those who are donating in their favor," he said.
Editor's note: The St. Louis Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.