It sounds like a legitimate arm of the US Government – one that claims it is dedicated to championing a fair legal system that promotes economic growth and opportunity.
But the Institute for Legal Reform is actually a non-government business lobby that actively tries to stop ordinary Americans from seeking justice and now it’s targeting Australia.
It’s throwing millions of dollars at attacking litigation funders – a crucial source of funding for three quarters of all class actions in Australia. It’s arranged secret meetings with the Government, hired one of the country’s foremost class action lawyers to lobby our politicians and made a submission to the ongoing Federal Inquiry urging more regulation of litigation funding.
So, what is the Institute for Legal Reform and why is it showing so much interest into our legal system in Australia?
The ILR was set up in 1998 by the US Chamber of Commerce – considered to be the most powerful business lobby in America.
Originally a bipartisan organisation, the US Chamber of Commerce is now considered to be an arm of the Republican party. In 2014 it funded television ads for 10 House candidates, all were Republican.
Over the last 22 years, both the Chamber and its legal arm have made it far harder for Americans to launch class actions.
It’s funnelled money into state elections campaigns, especially races involving business friendly judges. Under the guise of a group called Voters Education Committee, it ran a misinformation campaign against pro-consumer Attonry General Candidate back in 2014. Funding a series of ads against Ms Senn to the tune of US$1.5 million.
The ILR has also owns several “newspapers” around the country that present readers with pro-business, anti-class action stories – including the Florida Record and Northern Californian Record. A recent scan of its website brings up stories such as “Scaremongering lawyers should be disciplined.”
It also tried to hide the fact it owns these newspapers, but was called out by the Washington Post who wrote the ILR uses them, “as a weapon in its multimillion-dollar campaign against lawyers who file those kinds of suits”.
By securing more pro-business judges, the ILR has been very successful in cracking down on class action lawsuits – including making it harder for asbestos victims to receive compensation.
In 2017 legislation was also passed that limits the ability of consumers and small businesses to seek redress through class action lawsuits by require everyone joining a class action lawsuit to have suffered the same level of injury before the suit could proceed.
Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin, who voted against the legislation, said: “I oppose this misguided legislations because it sends another huge valentine and wet kiss to large corporate polluters and tortfeasors, but gives the finger to millions of American citizens who suffer injuries from these defendants.”
It’s also actively lobbying against climate change lawsuits in the US – including supporting ExxonMobil which was being sued by the New York State in 2018. ILR President Lisa A Rickard said at the time: Today’s lawsuit filed against ExxonMobil in New York is nothing more than a contortion of the securities litigation system. In bringing this case, the state is yet again using the Martin Act as a political weapon. Litigation will not help us confront the challenge of climate change.” She failed to mention that the Chamber has received US $3 million in funding from Exxon.
Last year the ILR was hellbent on allowing companies to push workers into forced arbitration – allowing them to escape accountability of wage theft.
It’s about time the true nature of the IRL is made public. They’re here for one reason only – the companies it represents are global giants that hate class actions. But do we really want our politicians here in Australia to be lobbied by an organisation which stamps on the rights of asbestos victims and accepts money from the biggest polluters on the planet. Or should we as congressman Jamie Raskin said, instead show them the finger?