Tort reform promises to be one of the top concerns of the new PAC.
Ohio's largest Chamber of Commerce is hoping to exercise some political muscle in next fall's election. "The Greater Cleveland Growth Association" is starting it's own political action committee, or PAC. Northeast Ohio business leaders say they took the action because they believe small companies have been "let down" by elected officials who don't always vote with their best interests in mind. Mike West reports.
Mike West- The Cleveland Growth Association has sixteen-thousand members, small business owners who know the value of "strength in numbers". For example, many members join the Association to take advantage of its' health plan. The group's buying power allows business owners to pay lower premiums for employee coverage. One arm of the growth association is the "Council of Small Enterprises" or "COSE", pronounced "cozy". COSE chairman Bob Smith says the idea for the PAC came from political leaders who told him that the price for getting results is more time and money spent at the state capitol.
Bob Smith- I think they let it be known to us that you can't come down here at crunch time, on issues that you think are critical to you, and tell us what you think we ought to do, without being part of the whole political process.
MW- COSE is already involved with political issues that affect a number of small businesses. Smith says the new PAC will allow the group to help bankroll statewide candidates.
BS- Without a PAC, as a not-for-profit we are not able to endorse candidates. So with endorsement comes, I think, a little more insight and a little more influence to receiving fair concern of laws that are good and fair for a good economic climate. And I think that will also (require) high accountability by our legislators because legislators are confronted with a lot of difference constituencies, and they know that they can easily support different causes. But we also know that the old saying is, "What they say and what they vote can be two different things."
MW- Both the Ohio House and Senate are controlled by the Republican party, normally thought of as a friend to business. But, Smith says, COSE members aren't satisfied with how Republicans are voting. Jim Trakas disagrees with that critique. He heads up the Cuyahoga County Republican Party, and insists that Republicans want to help small business. He lays the blame at the feet of another branch of state government.
Jim Trakas- I think most of the problem with legislation (that) small business people have is called the Ohio Supreme Court. The Republican controlled General Assembly has passed a number of very important small business and pro-business initiatives to help employment in the state, and the Ohio Supreme Court has consistently, over the past 4 years, knocked down that legislation as unconstitutional.
MW- Business owners and the insurance industry support tort reform and the issue promises to be one of the top concerns of the new PAC. Tort reform are laws that put a two-hundred and fifty thousand dollar cap on the amount of money people could recover if they won a lawsuit. Last summer, the seven member Supreme Court ruled that legislators had overstepped their authority by passing tort reform, and struck down the laws. The decision made some of the judges the target for political retaliation.
JT- This has been a court that cannot be viewed as a friend of employers, and so I would imagine that people in the small business community would be very upset about it.
MW- A coalition of Democrats, trail lawyers and labor leaders spearheaded the winning battle to "do in" tort reform measures. They say victims should not be limited in the amount of damages they recover. Jimmy Demora is the Democratic party chairman for Cuyahoga County. He says Judge Alice Robie-Resnick, who's six year term is up at the end of the year, will likely be targeted by this small business PAC.
Jimmy Demora- And the insurance industry is really upset with her and unhappy because she was one of the justices that allowed the limitations to be lifted and the cap to be lifted. Certainly the insurance industry is upset about it and they're gonna try and do everything they can to get her defeated - and it's unfortunate - because all she was doing was what was fair.
MW- John Entin is a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. He sees the new PAC as part of a bigger plan to pack the State Supreme Court with business-friendly judges. Entin says the tort reform decision may be a perfect rallying point for the PAC's membership drive.
John Entin- It's easier to focus on one ruling that you can say symbolizes the drift of the court. And I think that the people at the Growth Association understand that a statute can't trump the Constitution. But it's a good issue. But I think they really do understand that in the end, what they need to do is to get the court to change it's view about the constitutionally of tort reform.
MW- Tort reform aside, Democratic Party leaders are concerned about the power and money represented by a big group of business owners who can pour money into political advertising to support their favorite candidates. Democrat Jimmy Demora fears the impact could be significant.
JD- Anytime you get organizations that have the wealth and the financial ability that some of the special interest groups do, there is always a fear factor that they can outspend you. And try and craft messages that will confuse the voters and try and plan a different type of image of the elected official. There's no way to compete dollar for dollar.
MW- Growth Assocaition PAC leaders say it's too early to discuss fund raising goals or endorsements, but say they'll have plenty of time to get their political machine running before the fall campaign season. In Cleveland, I'm Mike West, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.