On politics in the Golden State

« Previous Post | PolitiCal Home | Next Post »

John Sullivan, leader of one of California's most influential business groups, announces retirement

September 27, 2010 |  1:01 pm

The head of one of the most influential business groups in California announced his retirement Monday. John Sullivan is leaving as president of the Civil Justice Assn. of California after serving for 15 years at the helm of an industry-backed group that advocates for limiting lawsuits against businesses.

He credited his group’s biggest successes as the passage of Proposition 64 in 2004, which restricted lawsuits against a company except by those directly injured, either physically or financially. He also said there has been a culture shift “in our direction” in the Legislature, as legislators have more often stopped bills backed by consumer advocates and attorneys.

Under Sullivan’s direction, the Civil Justice Assn. of California increasingly waded into  political campaigning, growing into one of the major sources of political contributions. This spring, the organization spent more than $2 million in one state Senate primary, Sullivan noted, successfully helping Juan Vargas, a moderate Democrat, win the party’s nomination.

Consumer advocates and attorney groups have criticized the group, whose board members comprise a who’s who of big businesses in the state, as a front for oil, health insurance and tobacco interests.

“It’s natural that if you try to attack an organization you pick whatever part of their membership is least popular in the polls,” Sullivan said. “It used to be Big Oil; now, it’s big HMOs.”

The legal paper, the Daily Journal, first reported Sullivan's retirement Monday.

What’s next for Sullivan? Bee-keeping and flying fishing, he said. Also, he and his wife are avid Mazda Miata racers. His next trip round the track is in three weeks at Laguna Seca.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento