-by Christina Wilkie and Mike Sacks
September 20, 2011- ARLINGTON, Va. — A recently-formed judicial "academy" funded by industry groups and conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is offering members of Congress and their staff free meals and trips in order to "educate" the lawmakers on controversial pro-business reforms.
The group is the Congressional Civil Justice Caucus Academy (CCJCA), launched earlier this year by the Law and Economics Center (LEC) at George Mason University's School of Law. Despite being part of the university, the right-leaning LEC depends entirely on specially-designated donations which come from a core group of about 50 corporations and foundations, including The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Merck, Exxon, Eli Lilly, Altria, Wal-Mart, and the conservative Bradley Foundation.
Unlike similar LEC programs for judges and attorneys, however, the CCJC academy is connected to Congress via the Congressional Civil Justice Caucus. The two groups share the same goals, but are separate entities. Formed in February of this year, the caucus is made up of Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats committed to promoting "a civil justice system that … advances job creation and economic growth." For co-chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), that means a justice system wiped clean of "excessive and frivolous litigation" and "inefficient rules." Goodlatte's caucus co-chair is retiring Democrat Dan Boren (Okla.), who is joined by Republican House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith (Texas) as well as GOP Reps. Randy Forbes (Va.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) and Lee Terry (Neb.). On the Democratic side are Utah's Jim Matheson, Minnesota's Colin Peterson, Nick Rayhall of West Virginia and Loretta Sanchez of California.
According to promotional materials, the caucus academy aims to provide "rigorous and balanced education programs on a range of civil justice issues for the benefit of the general public and members of the U.S. Congress and their staff."
Thus far, however, the academy has fallen short of this goal.
During the past three months, the CCJC academy has organized a closed symposium on Capitol Hill and a lavish, invitation-only gala dinner for legislative branch staff at the impressive Reagan International Trade Center, both of which were free for attendees. Next up is a three-day getaway — no cost to attend — for senior congressional staff in colonial Williamsburg.
The academy's executive director, Geoffrey Lysaught, declined to comment on the events.