Hurricane Mostyn

Trial lawyer Steve Mostyn and wife fund anti-Romney smear campaign

Amber and Steve Mostyn
September 4, 2012

The pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA has run a coordinated campaign to smear Mitt Romney’s character, even going so far as to suggest he was responsible for the death of a woman by cancer. That campaign has been financed in part by Steve and Amber Mostyn.

The wealthy Texas attorneys have contributed $1 million to Priorities USA, along with $500,000 to the Democratic House Majority Super PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Mostyns were some of the first people the Super PAC turned to earlier this year in an effort to finance its campaign of personal attacks on Romney, according to a New York Times report.

Priorities strategists Bill Burton and Paul Begala went to Key West, Fla., in April to meet the couple on Steve’s Italian-made, 60-foot-plus yacht—one of three he owns—and asked for a $1 million donation. Burton showed the Mostyns raw footage of prospective campaign ads on his iPad that later would be used in ads portraying Romney as a corporate villain who heartlessly closed factories and fired people for profit.

They needed the money right away, Burton told them, in order to "define" Romney early on in the race. "It’s what the Bush campaign did to John Kerry in 2004," Begala reportedly told them.

The Mostyns wired $1 million the next day, helping to finance a $10 million ad blitz in key swing states. The couple was convinced to donate despite their view that Obama had been "naïve" and too accommodating to Republicans during his first term.

Steve Mostyn, 41, is the former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA) and has amassed a fortune thanks to a series of successful lawsuits against the state related to damage caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Mostyn was lead counsel in a class action suit filed against the Texas Wind Insurance Association (TWIA), the insurer of last resort for the state’s coastal counties prone to Hurricane damage, over mishandled insurance claims. The TWIA eventually settled with Mostyn’s firm for $189 million, nearly half of which went towards legal fees.

The $86 million in payments to Mostyn’s firm was more than what the TWIA takes in in premium payments each year. Earlier this year the TWIA approved a 5 percent increase in premium rates in an effort to recoup its substantial losses associated with Hurricane Ike and the resulting lawsuits. State officials have said the TWIA may need to collect as much as $250 million a year to fund its total losses.

Republican state Rep. Larry Taylor has called on the TWIA to rein in "out-of-control legal expenses" before resorting to a rate increase. Mostyn personally spent at least $275,000 trying to defeat Taylor in 2010, campaign records show.

Mostyn pledged millions of dollars to Democratic candidates and committees following the lucrative settlement, primarily to individuals or groups backed by trial lawyers.

Mostyn has even set up a number of shell political organizations designed to support Republican candidates who pledge to oppose tort reform—groups such as Texans for Individual Rights, Conservative Voters of Texas, Texans for Insurance Reform, and Back to Basics PAC, which spent more than $4 million since 2010 attacking Gov. Rick Perry (R., Tex.) and other proponents of tort-reform legislation. By some estimates, Mostyn donated more than $10 million to such groups in 2010 alone.

He founded Mostyn Law Firm in 1999, and began filing lawsuits against "multi-national corporations and insurers who often were getting away unchallenged as they treated their customers unfairly or in BAD FAITH," according to the firm’s web site.

Mostyn encountered some legal trouble of his own in 2011, when former paralegals at his firm filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Mostyn had refused to pay them overtime.

Mostyn associate and Democratic state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer came under fire in July for dishonest testimony relating to the state’s proposed voter ID law, which was recently struck down in federal court.

In testimony before the court, Fischer used his own mother as an example of someone who would be disenfranchised by the law because she lacked a driver’s license. It was later revealed that Fischer’s mother did have a license, renewed in August 2011 and valid through July 2017. Fischer later apologized for his untruthful statement.

The trial lawyer industry has a history of giving generously to Democrats. In 2008, lawyers and law firms donated more than $230 million to federal political candidates and committees, 76 percent of which went to Democrats.

The industry gave $43.2 million to President Obama in 2008 and was his top source of campaign donations. It is also the number one source of political contributions for all but five members of the Senate Democratic caucus.