Executive Summary

On August 11, 2022, South Carolina personal injury attorney Ed Bell joined a group of veterans and their families in the East Room of the White House for the signing of the PACT Act by President Joe Biden. The PACT Act, which provided financial compensation to families whose loved ones had been harmed in service to the U.S., contained a provision (the Camp Lejeune Justice Act) that addressed an environmental disaster at the Camp Lejeune military base located in North Carolina.

For more than thirty years, Marines and their families living at the base were exposed to toxic drinking water. According to reports, the federal government knew that service members and their families were being injured and killed because of this exposure but undertook a decades-long coverup instead of fixing the contamination.[1] Now, because of the new law, individuals could bring a claim against the federal government, promising justice for Lajeune victims – and a potential boon for their lawyers.

Mr. Bell said he was invited to participate in the signing ceremony for obvious reasons: “We wrote the bill.”

At the time, the optics of a personal injury attorney celebrating legislation that could later result in millions of dollars in legal fees was overshadowed by the concerns for the victims and their families.

However, the path to justice for the Camp Lejeune victims took several interesting turns before the legislation reached the East Room of the White House. The provisions in the bill promised compensation for the victims who had waited too long but also uniquely benefited personal injury lawyers – like Mr. Bell – by opening the deep pockets of the U.S. government.

“Think about this,” said Bell during an interview.[2] “This is the first time in U.S. history that an individual and especially a military member can bring a claim against the government. Prior to this time, if you were in the military and you got hurt, you got injured, you could not sue the government.”

Mr. Bell recognized the opportunities that came with the ability to sue the federal government. Unlike legal action against private companies, where company officials had the fiduciary duty to hire lawyers and consultants to aggressively protect shareholder value, no such duty was as clear when the federal government was faced with legal action related to compensation claims.

Even before the PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) Act was signed into law, the battle over key language indicated the legislation would be unique in shaping suits against the federal government. The initial bill, introduced to the House in March 2021[3], directly referenced the standing policy of a cap on attorney fees; eight months later, the next revision of the bill (and all following) omitted this language.[4] Without this fee cap, attorneys could charge an exorbitant fee to veterans and siphon more money out of the federal coffers.

How much could this cost U.S. taxpayers? The Wall Street Journal reported that the “Navy expects 100,000 cases to be filed within the law’s two-year window and the total cost could be hundreds of billions.”[5]

Given the financial impact the Camp Lejeune legislation could have on the U.S. taxpayer, GAI investigated the legislative process to identify who was paid to lobby for certain provisions and who benefited from these provisions. GAI also investigated the potential impact of a new business model – created by the legislation – allowing settlements to bypass the court system and resulting in lower legal expenses and higher profit margins for attorneys.

This is what we found:

  • In 2021, Ed Bell assembled a “Dream Team” of lawyers with a financial interest in the Camp Lejeune issue to craft legislation that was ultimately presented to Senator Thom Tillis. This version omitted the attorney fee caps that were included in the House version of the legislation.
  • With competing versions of the legislation in the Senate and House related to attorney fees, the Bell Legal Group increased the number of lobbyists from seven to twenty-five during an eighteen-month period, and lobbying expenditures increased from $100,000 in 2021 to $1.6 million in 2023.
  • Ed Bell has spoken about his involvement in the bill’s creation and success, stating, “We were told by the Department of Navy and others, in order to prevail and in order to have at least a chance of going to court, we have to change the laws. So, we wrote the bill.” He has also claimed that: “If there’s anyone who owns this bill, I do. This would have never happened without our little group working like this.”[6]
  • Needing help to ensure the final version of the House bill did not limit attorney fees, the Bell Legal Group hired Danny Weiss, a lobbyist with ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Weiss was paid $650,000 over fifteen months when critical votes were taking place. Ed Bell referred to Pelosi as the “secret sauce” behind the legislation.[7]  As of late 2023, records indicate that Ed Bell’s law firm, The Bell Legal Group, was involved with approximately 560 Camp Lejeune cases—far greater than any other personal injury law firm.
  • Law firms implemented a multi-faceted marketing process and spent millions recruiting clients in search of lucrative contingency fees. According to advertising data, $145 million was spent on television and social media advertising by the end of 2022. This spending was only surpassed by ads for claims over asbestos, weedkiller Roundup and blood thinner pill Xarelto.[8]  In addition, after the bill was signed on August 11th, 2022, advertising spending increased a hundredfold to $31M in August alone.
  • Contingency fees charged by attorneys are well above the 20-25 percent standards followed under other federal laws. Recently, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) noted that a firm in Montana was charging plaintiffs as much as a 60% contingency fee for Camp Lejeune-related cases.
  • Third-party marketing groups, called “lead generators,” entered the race to secure valuable leads for personnel injury lawyers. These “lead generators” initially charged $1,000 for a Camp Lejeune case, which increased over fivefold when the bill was passed.
  • The potential windfall, combined with aggressive marketing tactics, resulted in more than twenty firms being taken to court over violations of the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The TCPA places limits on the telemarketing industry. One plaintiff reportedly received fifteen illegal marketing calls despite being registered on the federal do-not-call list.


[1] https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/1865877/documents-reveal-details-of-lejeunes-toxic-water/
[2] https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/the-heart-of-law/seeking-truth-the-struggle-MpLYvj3hJkV/#google_vignette
[3] https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2192/text
[4] https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/3176/text
[5] https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-camp-lejeune-lawsuit-racket-north-carolina-marines-chemical-exposure-ftca-trial-lawyers-PACT-act-5892a96c
[6] https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/marines-toxic-water-and-lawyers-a-fight-over-billions-in-fees
[7] https://rollcall.com/2022/08/11/biden-signs-bill-to-aid-veterans-exposed-to-toxic-substances/
[8] https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/camp-lejeune-litigation-dominates-law-firm-advertising-spend-2023-03-10/