July 10, 2004 -- Just days after three business lobbyist groups attacked Senator John Kerry's choice of Senator John Edwards for a running mate, leading members of the business community rallied around the presumptive Democratic presidential ticket.
Though they denied that they were rebutting comments made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others that Edwards would be bad for business, a group of corporate executives, including the president of News Corporation, Peter Chernin, and chairman and chief executive officer of Interactive Corp., Barry Diller, publicly expressed their support for the Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket in a joint conference call on Thursday, repeatedly describing the candidates as "pragmatic" and "responsible."
The chamber, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers have all taken issue with Edward's prior career as a trial lawyer. The groups have tort and liability reform high on their policy agendas, arguing that excessive settlements in liability and class action suits are either closing businesses or raising the cost of doing business by increasing expenses like insurance premiums. They fear that Edwards, who made almost all of his personal wealth trying medical liability cases, would stall their efforts if elected.
"The Republican Party is painting him as some sort of extremist," Warren Spector, president of investment bank Bear Sterns, said in the conference call. "But in my dealings with him, I found him to be very open minded and willing to listen to all sorts of business issues, concerns about legal reform, concerns about healthcare not only from a personal point of view, but also from a business point of view."
The group, which also included John Thompson, CEO of Symantec Corp., and Dan Rosenweig, chief operating officer of Yahoo!, continuously stressed that they believed that Kerry and Edwards had a fiscally responsible economic plan that would support business and create as many as 10 million jobs. Both Chernin and Thompson expressed that they'd be willing to give up any tax benefit they've received due to President Bush's tax cuts.
The trial lawyer issue, however, was foremost on people's minds.
"I think the most important thing is that [Edwards] proved himself to be a very adept and sophisticated trial lawyer," said Chernin. "But I think it's sort of bogey man politics to suggest that trial lawyers are going to somehow guide this administration."
Media mogul Barry Diller was more blunt: "The fact that [Edwards] was a trial lawyer in an earlier period of his life is I don't think indicative of much of anything except a good little target to bash in for a couple of days until it goes away."