Report questions link between Illinois lawyers and politicians
A new report by a civilian group in Illinois questions the link between lawyers and political leaders in the state.
The report, "Justice For Sale," is the third document of its kind released by the Illinois Civil Justice League, a group of citizens, businesses, associations, professional societies, nonprofit organizations and local governments.
“There is clearly a need for reform in Illinois, and I think this report goes a long way to making a case for that reform,” John Pastuovic of the Illinois Civil Justice League told the Peoria Standard.
The Illinois Civil Justice League focused the report on campaign finances between plaintiffs' lawyers and Illinois politicians.
“Basically what we did was we looked at (what) the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) was donating. Then we looked at the top contributing law firms and their partners and their families that were donating to the trial attorney association (political action committee). We took their names and their information and we put that against the election board database and were able to extrapolate the money that they were giving directly to campaigns.”
The report found that trial lawyers in Illinois have contributed over $32.2 million to Illinois politicians and judges over the past 15 years. This donation rate equates to approximately $264 per hour over the last 15 years, the report states.
“It is significant enough that the trial attorney’s association themselves gave $6 million over the last 15 years, but what was even more interesting was that the top 25 plaintiff firms — their lawyers and family members collectively — invested $29 million in the campaign of Illinois office seekers from January of 2001 through March of this year,” Pastuovic said.
“While the Illinois Trail Lawyers Association claims to represent 2,000, or 2 percent of all Illinois lawyers, the reality is that the industry leadership has been controlled by a much smaller group of approximately two to three dozen firms,” authors of the report wrote.
The report found that most donations have been made in just three Illinois counties: Cook, Madison and St. Clair.
“When the three counties with the highest concentration of civil litigation also are the three counties that draw the biggest campaign contributions by trial lawyers, it’s fair to ask: 'Is justice for sale In Illinois?” the group asked in the report.
The $6 million given by the ITLA was divided into 2,624 individual donations to 320 campaigns. They include donations as small as $220, given to a suburban Republican legislator, to several large donations made to Democratic caucus leaders. The report has also found that the majority of donations were made to Democratic candidates.
“Virtually all contributions, 98.6 percent, flow to Democrats,” the authors wrote. “The flow of ITLA PAC donations is so skewed to Democratic candidates that no single Republican has received even half of the average contribution total made to Democrats.”
According to the report, the average donation to Democrat candidates is $21,650, whereas the average donation made to Republican candidates was $1,960.
“We expanded our study this time to look at how much the trial attorney’s association and their members were donating to the complete political process in Illinois; so, it is more of an expanded study,” Pastuovic said.
Pastuovic said they used information from the Illinois State Board of Elections, which is public record.