Thursday, February 19, 2004 12:00AM EST      

The beauty contest

Those poor ol' special interest groups. Schmoozing the speaker of the state House of Representatives has become all the tougher since the job has been split between Democrat Jim Black of Mecklenburg County and Republican Richard Morgan of Moore County.

Twice the handshakes. Twice the barbecue. Twice the goofy little gift items. Twice the insincere smiles.

And twice the money?

Well, not exactly. A report from The N&O's Lynn Bonner notes that the speakers are not exactly twins when it comes to the issue of limiting awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. Morgan favors limits. And so doctors, hospitals and insurers apparently demonstrate their fondness for Morgan with some nice, fat campaign dollars -- $87,000 in the last six months of 2003. For his part, Black hasn't said as much about his views on the issue, but he did say once that he thought a proposed $250,000 limit on non-economic damages was too low. Perhaps that explains why trial lawyers seem to find him pretty in a political sense -- they gave him $41,000 in the second half of 2003, several times what the attorneys gave Morgan.

Both Black and Morgan have been been annoyed by even the hint that contributions reflect specific expectations from special interest groups as to what actions the General Assembly might take. Other lawmakers have the same reaction.

But what are we supposed to think when Speaker Black, commenting on the fact that medical community groups don't give him as much as they give Morgan, says: "If I were them, I'd be supporting both of us, with the issues they have going on at the legislature." Just what is that supposed to mean? Certainly not that the groups need to come across if they want to get the speaker's attention...or that there's some connection between legislation and campaign contributions.

Heavens, no. And shame on all of you who would even think such a thing. Shame, indeed.


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