Republican candidate for Governor Kenny Hulshof is targeting Attorney General Jay Nixon in a political ad for his handling of the state's historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But in dissecting Hulshof's ad, it's less about inaccuracies and more about perspective.
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- In a September 2000 editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did take Jay Nixon to task for the fee arrangement to pay attorneys for their work on the settlement case. Peter Kinder maintained the legislature should decide how much money goes to private lawyers. Nixon said the legislature shouldn't be involved. Nixon's team argued that the attorneys needed to be "brave and smart enough to go after someone who had never been beaten." The P-D called that "rubbish," asking, "How much courage does it take for a lawyer to agree to become a millionaire?"
- The KY3 Political Notebook contacted several attorneys with different political affiliations for their take on whether Nixon handled the fees for the settlement appropriately. Was the payout grossly excessive? Was it appropriate to pick Tom Strong? One Republican-leaning attorney, who agreed to be quoted if his name was withheld said this: "Look, I'm no fan of Jay Nixon, but that litigation was very sophisticated. I probably would've picked Tom Strong too. I'm not sure he wouldn't have been the best to do it. It's easy to look back on that now and say it wasn't a risk, but firms have to be willing to put up money against the best funded corporate lawyers in the world. Only a handful in the country can do that." Steve Garner of The Strong Law Firm said that the fees were ultimately determined by an arbitration board. "Had the private lawyers had wanted to enforce the contract with the state, they would've paid a hell of a lot more, if it wasn't through arbitration," Garner said. "Jay Nixon was one of the last Attorney Generals to hire counsel because he hoped there would be a settlement. And he demanded that the attorneys weren't paid with taxpayer money. The state did not pay out a penny and Jay Nixon demanded it be that way," he added. Attorney Robert Palmer, who was interviewed for my television piece, said the real question is one of quid pro quo. Palmer said there's no evidence that Strong had an undo or inappropriate influence on Nixon's action.
- In May of 2000, the Post-Dispatch did not let up. The paper even acknowledged, "Mr. Strong is a good lawyer. But how can the public feel confident in the attorney general's choice of a lawyer when the lawyer is one of his biggest donors?"
- Later, a State Audit by Claire McCaskill faulted Nixon for transparency during the process. Auditor McCaskill said Nixon failed to provide state officials with reasons for hiring the tobacco settlement legal team. In July 2000, the Springfield News-Leader said McCaskill was right. "The outside lawyers handling the state tobacco case have contributed $559,000 to state officeholders and political parties in the past eight years. Did that influence Nixon's selection? He will say no, but as long as he keeps secret the specifics of how he chose a particular outside attorney, we're left to wonder," wrote the News-Leader editorial board.
The main gist of the tobacco related response in this ad is TRUE.
Missouri did receive $1.4 billion dollars from tobacco companies over the past 10 years. The tobacco companies paid all legal bills and expenses, and taxpayer money was never used.