As Congress debates giving immunity to phone companies that assisted the government in tracking terrorist communications, trial lawyers prosecuting those phone companies have poured money into the coffers of Democratic senators, representatives and causes.
Court records and campaign contribution data reveal that 66 trial lawyers representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against these phone companies donated at least $1.5 million to Democrats, including 44 current Democratic senators.
All of the trial lawyers combined only contributed $4,250 to Republicans in comparison. Those contributions were made to: Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), Sen. Lindsay Graham (S.C.), Sen. Mel Martinez, and Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.).
One maxed-out lawyer donor, Matthew Bergman of Vashon, Washington, has given more than $400,000 in his name to Democrats. In the 2008 cycle alone he donated $78,300 to various campaigns.
Bergman’s law firm’s website says he also specializes in “identifying viable asbestos defendants, locating evidence and developing legal theories to hold offending companies accountable.” In 2004, his firm split a $4.3 billion payout from Halliburton with seven other law firms. $30 million of that was delivered to their firm's asbestos victim clients.
Another lawyer prosecuting the phone companies is Mikal Watts of Corpus Christi, Texas, who has given more than $200,000 to Democrats. Watts has prosecuted Ford Motors over defective tires and attempted to run against Republican Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) for the Senate.
Since the New York Times broke a story in late 2005 that found the Bush administration had engaged in surveillance activities with cooperation from phone companies like Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, a debate has erupted, largely on party lines, over whether or not to protect those companies from prosecution under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities Act.
President Bush has aggressively called on Congress to do so, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has testified that FISA “is the radar we have for the 21st century to detect attacks before they happen.”
On Wednesday, the Senate held a critical vote on an amendment to the FISA reauthorization that would grant this immunity. It passed, but 29 Democratic senators voted against it. 24 of them have accepted campaign contributions from trial lawyers who are suing the government over those activities.
Two of them are running for President.