An update on the costs of politicians’ ideological crusades

by Robert Maynard

In January of last year TNR’s Rob Roper wrote a piece entitled “Politicians’ ideological crusades are costing Vermonters big in court”.  That article focused on the ideological crusades of Attorney General Sorrell and their cost to Vermont’s taxpayers.  In highlighting one crusade in particular, Roper wrote:

Now we know where Attorney General Sorrell gets his name – Bill. He’s racked up a mighty big one defending a Vermont law (Act 80, intended to prevent data mining by drug makers) all the way to the Supreme Court only to have it shot down as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

In a report released by Vermont State Auditor, Tom Salmon, the cost to Vermont taxpayers to fight the lawsuit is, so far, $634,678 in salaries and expenses. The final number could be as large as $2 million when “loser” fees are awarded by the court.

The Burlington Free Press expressed similar concerns last November: “Vermont lost a federal lawsuit aiming to protect patient privacy. And now we know how much taxpayers will pay for it. New court papers show the state is on the hook for $1.8 million to cover legal fees by Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America.”  Even in defeat, Vermont’s attempt to tilt at windmills was defended by Governor Shumlin:

“It’s not a surprise– you don’t win every case you take on,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

The governor was Senate president when the data-mining law was passed. He says the goal was to prevent drug companies from gathering information on doctors’ prescribing habits.

Others were less than impressed:

And the bill for this failed legal fight could go even higher; there are still more plaintiffs. Legal experts think the settlement could also be millions.

“We are at risk every time we pass a law that is a feel-good or ideological-based law,” said Tom Salmon, R-Vt. Auditor.

Salmon says Republicans fought the law saying it was unconstitutional and the Supreme Court said the law lacked coherence and careful crafting. Salmon says this is a pattern. The state lost a battle over the state’s campaign finance law and paid $1.5 million for the other side’s attorney fees. And then there’s the battle over Vermont Yankee’s future.

It looks like the “bill for this failed legal fight” did in fact go even higher.  Today WCAX carried a story titled “Vt must pay another $2M in legal fees over data-mining battle”, contained the following update on this continuing saga:

Vermont’s failed attempt at legislating data mining by pharmaceutical companies will cost taxpayers another $2 million in legal fees.

The data-mining law was meant to prevent drug companies from gathering information on doctor’s prescribing habits. But the U-S Supreme Court found it unconstitutional.

Last fall, a judge ruled the state would have to pay $1.8 million to cover the cost of the lawyers for one of the plaintiffs, Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America. Now a judge has awarded another plaintiff– IMS Health– $2.2 million. It could have been worse– IMS was seeking $4.2 million.

So, a judge ruled against the state of Vermont to the tune of $1.8 million last fall and just added an additional $2.2 million to our tab.  That is $4 million and counting.  It looks like  we can ill afford to pass any more laws that are “feel-good or ideological-based”.  Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg as a good portion of the laws that our political leadership is passing fit into that category.  Let just hope that Vermont’s taxpayers awake to this reality before even bigger bills come due.