Editorials

Protecting a plaintiff paradise takes lots of campaign cash

Four metro-east law firms donated $10.65 million to political campaigns during the past 15 years. What return do they expect on their investment?
Four metro-east law firms donated $10.65 million to political campaigns during the past 15 years. What return do they expect on their investment?

Attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. is exercising his First Amendment rights when he gives money to political campaigns. His firm and three other local law firms gave $10.65 million over the past 15 years, which is closing in on one-third of what the top 25 Illinois law firms donated directly to political campaigns or through the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association’s political action committee.

Keefe said he is trying to protect workers compensation, collective bargaining and the right to a jury trial — like the jury that recently handed his client nearly $10 million for reading plans at the foot of a ladder in a construction zone and having his head stepped on.

“So when they want to attack lawyers for giving our money, at least we show where it comes from and put our names on it. I am not ashamed of any money I have given. I wish I could give more,” Keefe said.

Whether that desire to give more led to a violation of the federal campaign contribution limits is the subject of a Federal Election Commission investigation. The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust filed the complaint claiming Keefe’s firm exceeded donation limits by making donations through secretaries and a spouse to the C.J. Baricevic campaign for 12th Congressional District.

Keefe wouldn’t discuss the complaint, but a spokesman for Baricevic’s campaign dismissed it as a political attack by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the anti-labor Republican minions. The Civic Trust folks framed it as lawyers currying favor with St. Clair County’s chief judge, who hapens to be C.J.’s father.

Republican minions. Democratic minions. All the many minions are out to protect their own interests and livelihoods, but it is important to note that the lawyers invest heavily in the plaintiff paradises of Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties.

The point is not that they are trying to buy influence and power, but whom they are trying to buy. Free speech is a great thing. So are campaign financial disclosures so we all know how eager our U.S. representatives are to listen to the worries of their friendly member of the plaintiff bar versus Jane Q. Public’s concerns about clean air or the VA or income taxes.

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