Zillions for politics, zip for the poor

If you watched television this fall, you'd have seen California invaded from the east. Some campaign commercials showed herds of cattle, representing eastern businessmen, stampeding us to death. Others depicted hordes of East Coast lawyers out to sue us into submission.

This was the intellectual dialogue -- some $52 million worth -- aimed at California voters pondering Proposition 211.

The proposition lost. Big time. Placed on the ballot by San Diego attorney William Lerach and a handful of attorneys who represent shareholders in fraud suits, the initiative was crushed under the biggest pile of money ever spent on a state proposition -- about $40 million.

In fact, the opponents had so much money that they couldn't spend it all. Some went to defeat another pro-lawyer initiative, Proposition 207.

The final tally was Cows 3, Lawyers 0. Proposition 213, backed by the insurance industry, was approved.

In the March primary, trial attorneys won 3 to 0, defeating two tort reform initiatives and one no fault insurance measure.

So after two elections, six ballot measures, thousands of commercials, millions of dollars, editorials and debates, almost nothing was accomplished. But there were winners and losers:

Silicon Valley: Winner. High tech executives lost tort reform. But they did slay 211. And they discovered the money and muscle to become a major player in Sacramento. To compete with the powerful trial lawyers' lobby. Now they may push for a federal law to stop future initiatives like 211.

Lerach and company: Losers. By a 3 to 1 margin in the case of 211. Furthermore they aroused a powerful enemy. But don't count them out. There are reports of Son of 211 aimed strictly at Silicon Valley. And they may try initiatives in other states such as Colorado.

TV stations: Big winners. In the days before the Nov. 5 election, some stations were so saturated with political advertising they diverted commercials to their competitors.

The legal profession: Big loser. Just what lawyers needed. Another big bucks campaign portraying them as sharks and barracudas.

The public: No decision. But a few discerning citizens might wonder why so much money is spent on an obscure proposition and so little on legal services for the poor.