Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups (or CALAs) are "grassroots" groups created by industries and businesses to give the appearance of a groundswell of public desire to alter the legal system to make it harder to bring lawsuits for injuries and illnesses caused by hazardous products. A primary funder of CALAs, and tort reform, has been cigarette maker Philip Morris, and they both funded and controlled the organizations through ATRA, the American Tort Reform Association

A "privileged and confidential" Philip Morris (PM) tort reform budget from 1995 shows that PM spent over $16 million to instigate tort reform during that year alone, and that PM paid an international public relations firm called APCO & Associates (now known as APCO Worldwide) almost $1 million in 1995 to implement tort reform efforts behind the scenes. [1]

California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Spending to Defeat Labeling Initiative

California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is working to defeat the California Labeling Initiative. In April 2012 nearly 1 million signatures were delivered to county registrars throughout California calling for a referendum on the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The "Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act", will be on the November 2012 ballot.[2]

The ballot initiative will face fierce opposition from the food and biotech industries, which are expected to spend an estimated $60-100m on an advertising blitz to convince Californians that labeling is unnecessary, will hurt farmers, increase their food prices, and even contribute to world hunger.[3]


APCO's job was to create local chapters of "grassroots" citizens' groups called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALAs) in all 50 states. The same document demonstrates how well-funded and widespread the tobacco industry's plan to alter the American judicial system is: it lists all the consultants, organizations, individuals and law firms funded to promote alteration of the legal system in 1995-96. [4]

Another Philip Morris tort reform budget document, this time from 1993, states:

"APCO has been setting up...Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse chapters...I would argue that it is important to continue because grass roots agitation for tort reform helps us to protect [our interests in SB 241 (a tort reform bill before the California legislature)]."[5]

This work was done through an APCO employee, Neal Cohen, who ran the American Tort Reform Association, and it was also supported by Peter Huber and Walter Olson, who publicized the "junk-science/over-lawyering" message through the Manhattan Institute and Olsons <> website (a mimic of Steve Milloy's <> web site), which offered much the same corporate-funded messages. Also involved was Dale Florio.

A 1995 "privileged and confidential" memo from Covington and Burling, a long-time tobacco industry law firm, states that to be effective, media activities promoting tort reform "must not be linked to the tobacco industry."[6]

Yet another "highly confidential" 1994 Philip Morris internal memorandum states,

"Our success in the tort battles in the past two years has resulted in part from our ability to find non-tobacco industry messengers to head the fight. Our success in battling [Florida-type Medicaid legislation] will come in part from our ability to [use] the more acceptable public face of key business association or coalition leaders." [7]

The beginning

The first CALA chapter was founded through the efforts of the Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce in Weslaco, Texas. Jon Opelt, a political consultant, was hired to run what would be eventually called Weslaco CALA, and was financed by the Chamber of Commerce, the local medical association and various corporations. The chairman was an executive of Central Power and Light, Gonzalo Sandoval. Through methods like focus groups and polling, Weslaco CALA decided to use the phrase "lawsuit abuse" in its campaign efforts. It launched its first campaign in January 1991.

In 1992, US vice-president Dan Quayle met with the people running Weslaco CALA and encouraged them to spread their campaign. Soon afterward, CALA chapters spread across Texas, helped by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Chamber of Commerce. CALA chapters began appearing outside of Texas as well, and the CALAs now run a web site called Sick of Lawsuits.

The Winter 2000 edition of the Section Review, a publication of the Massachusetts Bar Association, ran an article titled "The CALA Files: The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights." The article described a massive campaign organized and financed by tobacco companies, insurance companies, chemical companies and manufacturers of other dangerous products to "change the laws that give sick and injured consumers the ability to hold their offenders responsible for the injuries they cause."

Of APCO and CALAS, the authors write:

"Among other things, APCO's job has been to build a network of local organizations that act as mouthpieces for anti-consumer tort law changes. They euphemistically call themselves any number of names, typically: Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA); Lawsuit Abuse Watch; Stop Lawsuit Abuse; or People for a FAIR Legal System.

In this report they are collectively referred to as "CALAs."
While CALAs masquerade as grassroots citizens groups spontaneously manifesting citizen anger against so-called "lawsuit abuse" in their states, this report shows the CALAs to be part of a national corporate-backed network of front groups that receive substantial financial and strategic assistance from ATRA, APCO and some of America's biggest corporations."[8]

Contact information

Web site: Don Wolfe, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse
700 Empey Way, Suite 100A
San Jose, CA 95128
Telephone: 1-408-975-0820

An index of local CALAs is available at

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Covington and Burling Tort Reform Project Budget October 3, 1995. 9 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2047648299/8307
  2. Richard Schiffman,California adds GM food labeling referendum to November ballot, Packaging Digest, June 12, 2012
  3. Richard Schiffman,California adds GM food labeling referendum to November ballot, Packaging Digest, June 12, 2012
  4. Covington and Burling Tort Reform Project Budget October 3, 1995. 9 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2047648299/8307
  5. Philip Morris Tort Reform Budgets Memorandum. October 25, 1993. Bates No. 2048619562/9563
  6. Covington & Burling Possible Budget for Expanded Tort Reform Project Memorandum. January 24, 1995. Philip Morris Bates No. 91881092/1095
  7. Philip Morris counsel, Turning Back the Tide - (privlog) Handwritten note by Philip Morris in-house counsel, June 12, 1994. Bates No. 2047639169/9175 (Tobacco Library)
  8. Carl Deal and Joanne Doroshow, Center for Justice and Democracy and Public Citizen, The CALA Files - The Secret Campaign by Big Tobacco and Other Major Industries to Take Away Your Rights, organizational report, July 2000

External resources

External articles

<tdo>resource_id=31063 resource_code=cala search_term="Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse"</tdo>