FOX19 Investigates: Legal Lobbying? - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

FOX19 Investigates: Legal Lobbying?

Posted: Updated: Oct 17, 2012 10:00 PM
ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, OH (FOX19) -

Ted Knight is sitting at his dining room table on a chilly autumn morning talking about the financial fallout his family faces after he was injured on the job at a Procter & Gamble plant in Cincinnati.

"Who is accountable?" he asks. "Who is held accountable?"

Two courts have said not Procter & Gamble. In Ohio, you now have to prove your employer intentionally wanted to hurt you before you're even allowed to present your case to a jury.

After our first story about Knight's case aired, you told us you wanted to know who was behind this law. FOX19 spent weeks digging through documents, doing research on bills passed by the General Assembly, and talking to insiders. That eventually led us to "Amended House Bill 498" and the organizations that lobbied for it, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Manufacturers Association.

Among the lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill was state Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who was then a member of the House.

"Businesses spend an awful lot of money defending themselves against lawsuits that are either frivolous or seek damages that are far in excess of what should be paid," he told FOX19 from his law office overlooking downtown.

Ted Knight agrees with Sen. Seitz on that.

"Wouldn't doubt it," Knight said.

Even though he's an injured worker, he also believes too many people try to cash in by suing their employer, thinking they might hit the courthouse lottery.

"There's a lot of people in this world that probably definitely think in that manner," said Knight. "And it makes it very hard for the ones that are trying to do it right. And I can understand that. I think that there's a lot of brilliant people out there that could've done a better job at weeding that out."

He wonders why that wasn't done, asking whose side is Sen. Seitz really on --- the Average Joe's? Or the titans of American industry?

Seitz is a national board member in a controversial group known as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. At their meetings, dozens of legislators from across the country meet behind-closed-doors with companies like Duke Energy, Time Warner, and Procter & Gamble --- which has since left ALEC.

Just how much influence does ALEC have on what happens in Columbus?

Critics point to a memo obtained by FOX19 that was written by Sen. Seitz.

The left-leaning group Common Cause says it's proof the Cincinnati Republican lobbies other legislators to kill bills ALEC and its corporate members don't like. Writing to a fellow lawmaker, Rep. John Adams, Seitz said:

"…the considered advice from our friends at ALEC was that such legislation is not well taken and should not be approved."

In Seitz's downtown law office, FOX19 asked him, "Was it a mistake to lobby a fellow legislator on behalf of ALEC?"

"Oh, absolutely not," said Seitz. "I wasn't lobbying on behalf of ALEC at all."

The memo was first unearthed among 50,000 pages of documents by Common Cause attorney Nick Surgey. When he saw it, he says it "really jumped out at me as the most surprising" of all the documents.

That's because the memo was referring to a bill that could've led Ohio to uncovering fraud among state contractors and recouping that money. It also had the support of other Republicans, like Attorney General Mike DeWine.

But not ALEC.

And not Bill Seitz.

"And he's saying (in the memo)," Surgey argues, "look…ALEC, 98% funded by sources other than the legislators, you know --- predominantly corporations or big corporate-linked foundations --- have said that this bill is not in the interest of ALEC. ALEC have told us this bill will not be well-received."  

Sen. Seitz says that's not why he didn't support the bill. He says he was truly philosophically opposed to it based on what he saw when other states passed it.

"States will get a little bit of extra money but we find that most of that extra money is paid-out in increased bonuses to the third-party whistleblower and to the third-party whistleblower's attorney," said Seitz.

He's not a fan of progressive groups like Common Cause, either, saying they're just experiencing sour grapes because Democrats don't have a group as successful in getting their legislative agenda enacted.

"The suggestion that we're jealous is frankly ridiculous," Surgey shot back when we asked him about Seitz's view of his organization.

Surgey says Common Cause is just trying to represent the average citizen at a time when their voice is being drowned out by all the money in politics.

"Common Cause was really founded in an attempt to be an antidote to that, to be the people's lobby," Surgey said. "You know, every corporation, every special interest has a lobby. But there's no lobby for the people."

Back in Anderson Township, Ted Knight, who sees himself as a victim of a pro-business bill that Sen. Seitz co-sponsored and voted for, is sitting at home without a penny coming in.

He's still in intense pain, still needs long naps after getting hurt on the job in 2007.

He thinks about how workers' comp will pay for him to go to vocational rehab.

"Meanwhile, it still doesn't pay, give you money to pay your electric bills and the things you need," Knight said. "It doesn't give them (his wife and kids) any health insurance. Yes, it takes care of my health insurance --- only in relationship to the injury."

Sen. Seitz agrees that Knight's case shows the workers' compensation system in Ohio needs reform. He told us he might even consider bringing Knight to Columbus to testify before legislators.

Knight may eventually have to go on Social Security disability, should his workers' comp options be exhausted. So it will be the taxpayer who ends-up paying for something that happened at P&G.

Not the company.

Not in Ohio.

"Well, you know, the taxpayer will pay one way or the other," said Seitz. "If P&G pays, P&G will reflect the increased price of that payment in the price you pay for Tide soap, in the price you pay for that bar of Zest, and all the other products that P&G makes."

For its part, P&G has said numerous times the accident that severely burned Ted Knight was his fault, not the company's.

But a jury will never get to hear Knight's evidence that plant managers may have known there was a dangerous situation because just a few weeks ago the state appeals court in Cincinnati threw-out Knight's case.

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