Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

Representative Pushing For 'Asbestos Transparency' Has Ties to Corporation Being Sued By Asbestos Victims

The special interests of Congress are on full display in latest stab at legislation.

The Republican Party captured a majority in the US Senate in a sweeping midterm election victory that delivered a rebuke to President Barack Obama's Democrats

Republicans are on their third attempt to go after the Asbestos Trust System, a fund put in place to help the victims of asbestos-related diseases. Now they’re trying again, by introducing the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2015 (the FACT Act).

The champion of this project is Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, who has been trying to get the legislation passed since 2013. In short, Farenthold alleges that the current system is being conned through fraudulent claims. The U.S. Government Accountability Office studied the issue in 2011, and while it mentioned that the possibility of fraud might exist, found no definitive examples to suggest it’s a problem. In fact, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing held this month, an accounting firm witness pointed out that asbestos victim claims are only being paid out at 50% of what they were in 2009.

Critics of FACT argue that it would require asbestos bankruptcy trusts to respond to every information request made by corporate defendants. They believe that such litigation would slow, or stifle, victim compensation. A letter sent to congress by a number of consumer groups declares that FACT, “will delay and deny justice to people suffering from lethal asbestos-related diseases, severely invade the privacy of asbestos victims and their families, and interfere with state legal systems without justification. With the topic of asbestos litigation occupying the news lately, it may seem like an opportune time to legislate in this area. However, this bill is extremely misguided. It will do little more than harm dying victims, including many former Navy shipyard workers, while advantaging big corporations responsible for compensating them. For decades, secrecy and deceit have been a way of business for the asbestos industry and this bill does absolutely nothing to change that. The legislation is one- sided, unfair to victims and unnecessary.”

In 2013, Farenthold joined the house floor debate and claimed that, “This bill is for the victims.” A subject not mentioned by Farenthold, on the house floor, was the $25,000 in campaign contributions he received from United Technologies, a corporation that has been been tangled up in asbestos lawsuits for years.

United Technologies secured something of a victory in 2013, when it got a multidistrict litigation judge to remove it from a case involving the death of a former Navy aircraft repairman. Patrick Donlon died of malignant mesothelioma in 2008. His family claimed he had developed the disease by working with asbestos-contaminated parts and sued a number of companies that had supplied the Navy. United Technologies argued that the products Donlon worked on had been approved by the government, and therefore, protected under the federal officer removal statute. However, in July of last year, a federal judge in California reversed the decision and revived the claim.

While arguing for FACT, Blake Farenthold has also neglected to mention that his former chief of staff, David Lasseter, is a registered lobbyist for United Technologies. Small world.

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Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria