David Yates Aug. 15, 2014, 9:28am

Democratic Congressional candidates are benefiting in a big way from the generosity of major asbestos law firms and their attorneys.

Some of the nation's top asbestos firms have already contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2014 election cycle, including the Simmons Law Firm in Alton and Baron & Budd law firm based in Dallas.

Baron & Budd ranks No. 1 in money spent in federal elections among major asbestos firms, with a total of $203,950 contributed by the firm and its employees, according to opensecrets.org.

Nearly half of the firm’s donations ($100,000) have been directed to the Senate Majority PAC, a committee dedicated to protecting and expanding the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

Baron & Budd attorneys have also contributed a total of $32,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, campaign finance reports show.

The top candidates receiving contributions from asbestos firm employees include: Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, ($12,600); Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., ($8,900); Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., ($7,100); and Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, ($5,200).

Simmons attorneys have contributed $187,050 to congressional hopefuls in 2014, with the bulk of those donations directed to three candidates:

-Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., has received the most donations from Simmons attorneys at $62,100;

-Ann Callis, former Madison County judge and the Democratic nominee challenging GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in the 13th Congressional District, has reaped $36,850 from firm employees; and

-Rep. William Enyart, Democratic incumbent in 12th Congressional District facing Republican State Rep. Mike Bostm with $23,000 in contributions.

Before she stepped down from the bench in May 2013 to run for Congress, Callis was chief judge of a court system hosting the largest asbestos docket in the country. The vast majority of cases in Madison County are filed on behalf of out of state claimants. In recent years, and while she was chief judge, the number of filings has spiked.

Campaign finance reports show Simmons firm attorneys are supporting numerous Democratic Congressional candidates all around Illinois, including Rep. Bill Foster ($12,500), Rep. Tammy Duckworth ($10,000), Sen. Dick Durbin ($9,300), Rep. Brad Schneider ($9,000) and Rep. Cheri Bustos ($8,250).

The third biggest firm contributor is New York-based Weitz & Luxenberg, with $92,605 in total contributions, according to opensecrets.org.

The two primary politicians benefiting from the firm’s attorneys are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ($44,400) and Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, ($39,675).

Braley, a plaintiff lawyer by trade and former head of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, is running for Senate and received heaps of media attention for his past remarks concerning Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley being a “farmer.”

In January, Braley told a group of trial lawyers at a Corpus Christi, Texas, fundraiser he needs their “help” to stop Grassley – who was a farmer prior to launching his long time career in Congress – from becoming the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Attorneys for Motley Rice, one of the largest civil litigation firms in the country, have ponied up $75,000 so far in the 2014 election cycle, with one third ($25,000) of those donations going to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The top candidate recipients are:

-Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a South Carolina Democratic House candidate, $12,000;

-Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., $6,600;

-Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., $5,250;

-Plaintiffs attorney Curtis Osborne, a North Carolina Democratic House hopeful, $5,000; and

-Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn, D-Ga., $4,600.

Osborne was censured by the state bar last November for his handling of an automobile collision suit, in which he agreed to represent the driver and passenger. When he found out the driver was partially responsible for causing the collision, Osborne dropped her as client and named her as a defendant, according to an article in the Charlotte Observer.

Napoli Bern Ripka LLP, which has offices stretching from the width of the nation, rounds out the list, contributing $44,050, according to opensecrets.org.

The majority of the firm’s contributions ($32,400) were supplied to the Democratic National Committee.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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