In 2013, special interest groups financed by the Koch Brothers tried to sneak tort reform through the house in the form of SJR5 on two hours’ notice during a severe weather outbreak across the state. The committee hearing had originally been set for Friday, April 5. When so many Arkansas farmers, businessmen, and other citizens showed up to testify against it the committee had to change rooms, the bill’s sponsor decided to postpone the vote. One of the Chaney Firm’s clients, a heavy machinery salesman, was there to testify against the bill.
Instead of giving 48 hours’ advance notice (as required by rule) where the farmers and businessmen could come again to testify, the sponsor suspended the rules and gave only 2 hours notice on Wednesday that the bill would be heard. The Arkansas farmers and businessmen couldn’t make it. Our client was in Mountain Home selling equipment that day and was too far away to come. Lawyers from the Chaney Firm and others around the state dropped everything to attend the committee hearing in opposition to the bill, and fortunately it was defeated in committee. The vote was very close, and it shows that special interest money from the Koch brothers can buy lots of access.
Tort reformers such as the Koch brothers have spent, literally, billions of dollars in advertising campaigns trying to convince the public that jury awards are out of control. Ask yourself this — How many total runaway jury awards can you name? How many in Arkansas? How many involving someone you know, either as a party or on the jury?
News out yesterday shows that the Koch brothers are a prime example of “do as I say, not as I do.” Billionaire William Koch sued a California wine distributor for punitive damages, claiming that the bottles of wine he never inspected at an auction were fake. Koch paid $29,500 for one bottle (more than the federal poverty level for a family of 5) and $380,000 (8 times the median U.S. annual income of about $46,000) for two cases. Koch stated, “I absolutely can’t stand being cheated.” Apparently the Koch family’s hypocrisy knows no bounds: their lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has spend millions of dollars across the country for decades lobbying for draconian tort form that would make it harder for ordinary Americans to receive compensation for their injuries. To put this in perspective, for a billionaire, this amount of money is equivalent to $17.48 to someone making the median American income, or about the price of a bottle of wine. Would you sue someone over a bottle of wine? If the Koch brothers really hated frivolous lawsuits, would they be doing so?
Incidentally, the Koch brothers made most of their money on oil and have been big proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline — the big brother to the Keystone pipeline that burst in Michigan in 2010 and right here in Arkansas in 2013. It is plainly obvious that these men don’t care about Arkansas citizens — otherwise, they’d worry more about the sanctity of the court system and the safety of their pipelines, and less about suing over a bottle of wine.