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Related Chart: Money Talks SACRAMENTO — Trial lawyers are pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into several key Assembly Democratic primary races in an effort to create a more friendly Legislature, according to state campaign filings. Much of the money is being funneled to five Assembly races where candidates are running against moderate Democrats, who are considered more friendly toward business. In those five races combined, consumer attorney groups have contributed more than $700,000, mostly in advertising, since Jan. 28. Tort reformers and other candidates criticize the contributions. They say that such a massive influx of money — into districts covering Palo Alto, Fremont, Santa Rosa, Santa Ana and Chula Vista — risks making the beneficiaries puppets of the trial lawyers. But the trial lawyers say the money is needed to level the playing field against candidates who receive hefty donations from business groups. Dan Carl, a consultant to Thomas Pico Jr., who is running for an East Bay Assembly seat against trial lawyer-backed Dennis Hayashi, called the spending “disconcerting and obscene.” “I hope voters will see through it,” he said. But the plaintiffs bar’s main association, Consumer Attorneys of California, defends the spending as taking a stand against business interests that would like to see trial lawyers shut out of the Capitol. “It’s the only way to have a level playing field,” said Raymond Boucher, a partner at Beverly Hills’ Kiesel, Boucher & Larson who is also vice president of CAOC and coordinates the group’s fund raising. For Boucher and his colleagues, Tuesday’s election is a battle over control of the Assembly: Who will prevail when lawmakers introduce bills to expand or limit the ability to file lawsuits? While that fight has traditionally been between Democrats and Republicans, recent years have seen a rise in the power of moderate, pro-business Democrats. Now consumer attorney-backed candidates are going mano a mano with competitors endorsed and funded by moderates. In the last month, committees connected to Boucher’s group have made at least $705,769 in independent expenditures — third-party spending on behalf of a candidate. Committees controlled by business and moderate interests have shelled out nearly twice as much, $1.19 million, in the same races. Last year moderate Democrats, who have their own caucus of 12 to 15 lawmakers in the 80-member Assembly, proved troublesome to plaintiffs lawyers by breaking ranks with other Democrats. Bruce Brusavich, then the CAOC president, said he had hoped the moderates had been “weeded out” by his group’s work — and money — in the 2002 election. Yet the moderates persisted and managed to block consumer attorney-sponsored bills, most notably the attempt to expand the state unfair competition law . But the Civil Justice Association of California, a business-backed tort reform group that fights plaintiffs in court and in Sacramento, said looking at independent expenditures tells only part of the story. The plaintiffs bar also gives money in direct contributions, often collecting money from lawyers across the state and using their lobbying group to funnel it to important races. Last week, CJAC put out the results of its latest study on trial lawyer contributions, which showed that trial lawyer contributions account for more than half of all money spent in tight races. “Personal injury lawyers are shoveling money into this race because they want a candidate who will help perpetuate their ability to commit lawsuit abuse,” CJAC President John Sullivan said in a statement. “They know the public sees them as masters of self-serving, special interest politics, and that’s why they’re trying to sneak this money in under the radar through late contributions and deceptively named committees.” PRIMARY PIPELINES The trial lawyers’ main political action committees (PACs) are Consumer Attorneys Independent Campaign Committee; California Alliance, a coalition of consumer attorneys, conservationists and nurses; and Firefighters, Teachers, Nurses and Consumer Attorneys. PACs take donations from groups or individuals, but there are no limits on what they can spend. Apparently in preparation for the final days of the primary election, the plaintiffs bar pumped up several of its committees. On Feb. 9, for example, Laurence Drivon of Stockton’s Drivon & Tabak gave $350,000 to the consumer attorneys’ independent PAC — more than 100 times what he could give a single candidate as a direct contribution. For an example of how the competing ideologies duke it out through the almighty dollar, consider Assembly District 21. Headquartered in Palo Alto, the district is currently held by Democrat Joe Simitian. Although not termed out until 2006, he’s vacating the seat to run for the state Senate. Five candidates are vying to replace him: Republican Steve Poizner and Democrats John Barton, John Carcione, Barbara Nesbet and Ira Ruskin. Carcione is the son of well-known trial lawyer and Democratic contributor Joseph Carcione Jr. of Redwood City. Plaintiffs attorneys gave thousands in direct contributions to the younger Carcione throughout his campaign. Then, California Alliance made independent expenditures totaling $175,090, as of Thursday. Business interests found their candidate in Barton, who was endorsed by the Moderate Democratic Caucus. CJAC’s PAC kicked down $166,742 in independent expenditures for Barton, while Moderate Democrats for California — which Assembly moderates say makes its own contribution decisions — spent $7,706. Barton’s campaign manager, Greg Sellers, said he wasn’t surprised at California Alliance’s timing, although he said he was taken aback by the sheer amount of money the group spent. It hasn’t always been this way. Two broader factors influence the competition for money and votes: Proposition 34, passed by voters in 2000, and redistricting, which has created safe districts and forced candidates within the same party to fight each other rather than do battle down traditional party lines. “Whoever wins the primary is determined to win in November,” said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks legislative races. “Therefore [primaries] are where you can determine the make-up of the Assembly.” Boucher said the last-minute uptick in independent expenditures was the best way for his group to combat similar spending by groups that support moderates. Although Carcione has served on the board of the Peninsula’s West Bay Sanitary District, Sellers believes Carcione doesn’t have enough experience to succeed in Sacramento. That, combined with the fact that so much of his campaign money came from trial lawyers, means it’s “inevitable that influence is going to exert itself after the election,” Sellers said. Carcione said that’s hogwash and explained that he enjoys a broad support base beyond just plaintiffs lawyers. “I’ll be a new and independent fighter for � consumers across the board,” he said. Carcione said he knows he’s already making a difference because of the groups that are fighting against him. Last week, even as CJAC criticized Carcione for taking trial lawyer money, CJAC’s own PAC spent $166,742 on Barton — only $11,000 less that what the trial lawyers shelled out. Sellers said he just hoped the tort reformers help “amplify” Barton’s message. Both candidates can expect more heat depending on who makes it to Sacramento. Trial lawyers and businesses continue to push their wares in the Capitol, and interest groups will continue watching how the candidates behave. Although Carcione quickly derides CJAC’s PAC money as “special interest” because it comes from insurance and other big business, he wouldn’t acknowledge that plaintiffs attorneys are a special interest. By contrast, Boucher, the CAOC vice president, makes no excuses. “We certainly are another special interest. There’s no question.” But plaintiffs attorneys are different, he said. Where corporations buy special attention with their campaign money, the consumer attorneys are merely supporting lawmakers who will stand up for the “voiceless little person,” Boucher said. Sullivan, the CJAC president, is more blunt. Though he wouldn’t call it quid pro quo, he said the consumer attorneys spend an “awful lot of money getting people elected whom they expect to vote their way.”

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