U.S. Chamber of Commerce Takes Message to Movie Theaters

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009; 1:08 PM

Coming soon to a theater near you: a lobbying campaign!

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce began airing two-minute commercials today in movie theaters in the Washington area and two other cities, part of an escalating campaign against frivolous lawsuits that the group says are hurting innocent victims and small businesses.

Although movie theaters are increasingly home to brand-name commercials and public-service announcements, using them for what amounts to a political lobbying campaign is highly unusual, if not unprecedented. Lisa Rickard, president of the Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, said she came up with the idea after seeing an appeal for advertising during a recent trip to the movies.

"I felt like it was a real way to go straight to people and communicate to them about the impact of litigation," Rickard said. "The purpose of this is really not lobbying per se, but educating the public about the impact of these abuses."

The four cases highlighted in the commercials, which are available on www.facesoflawsuitabuse.org, include a 7-year-old sued for a minor skiing accident and an after-school facility shut down because of a frivolous lawsuit. The first trailers are running in theaters in Washington, Denver and Baton Rouge; chamber officials said they will expand the campaign if the pilot project shows good results.

One of the District-based theaters that will feature the ads, Regal Cinemas Gallery Place, sits around the corner from the Chamber's longtime foe, the American Association for Justice, previously known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

Ray De Lorenzi, a spokesman for the lawyer's group, said the trailers are little more than a gimmick and are aimed at distracting attention from legislation introduced last week barring forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts. He also said he doubted that most film patrons would appreciate being subjected to the two-minute, documentary-style ads.

"Now more than ever we've learned what happens when corporations are not held accountable for their actions," De Lorenzi said, referring to the financial crisis. "I don't think it's going to resonate very much with viewers."

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