Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Campaign Finance Laws Fail as Corporate Money Floods Judicial Races
Press Release

RELEASE: Campaign Finance Laws Fail as Corporate Money Floods Judicial Races

Washington, D.C. — The Center for American Progress today released “Campaign Finance Laws Fail as Corporate Money Floods Judicial Races,” a compilation of reports on different policies that could help mitigate the influence of corporate campaign cash in judicial elections that includes a new piece on “The Million Dollar Judges of 2012.” This new issue brief profiles state supreme court justices in North Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Mississippi, and Ohio who won elections in 2012 after raising roughly $1 million or more, as well as those who had more than $1 million spent on their behalf by independent groups, which presents conflict-of-interest issues with their donors.

The CAP issue brief found that a record $29.7 million was spent on ads in state supreme court elections in 2012. More than half of this money came in the form of independent spending. The campaigns of the “million dollar judges of 2012” demonstrate that independent spending plays an increasingly crucial role in elections. Unless states implement reforms, even more money will flood judicial races, and the influence that corporations and special interests exercise over judges will continue unabated.

States profiled in “The Million Dollar Judges of 2012” include:

  • North Carolina, where Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby was re-elected with the help of more than $2.5 million in independent spending, with hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by tobacco companies after they benefited from a 2009 ruling, authored by Newby, in a dispute with tobacco farmers. The largest donation was more than $1 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helped the state’s Republican legislature draft its recent redistricting maps. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit alleging that these maps disenfranchise minority voters; in a clear conflict of interest, this lawsuit is to be heard by Justice Newby.
  • Michigan, where the two re-elected justices and one newly elected justice to the Michigan Supreme Court raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own campaigns, but the state political parties spent $4.5 million on ads for the unsuccessful bids of Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra, as well as an unsuccessful high court candidate, without disclosing the sources of any of that money. Of the spending which was reported, the Michigan Association of Realtors spent $400,000 on ads for the conservative candidates after they joined a 2011 opinion that made it easier for mortgage companies to foreclose on homeowners.
  • Texas, where Justice Don Willett of the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court raised $1.7 million for a 2012 primary contest, including almost $100,000 from energy companies and large contributions from the industry’s top law firms. The justice has received more than $250,000 from energy companies over the years, and he blatantly invoked policy reasons in ruling for the energy company in a 2008 lawsuit involving hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
  • Mississippi, where Justice Josiah Coleman won a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court with $1 million in independent spending. Nearly half of that money came from a shadowy Virginia-based organization, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. The group has been active in judicial races around the country, and although it refuses to disclose its donors, it has been associated with the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The rest of the independent spending came from Improve Mississippi PAC, which received large donations from corporate-funded groups, including national tort reform advocates and political action committees representing the insurance, finance, and energy industries.
  • Ohio, where despite a rare “not recommended” rating by the Ohio State Bar Association, Justice Sharon Kennedy defeated an incumbent justice for a seat on the state supreme court. Kennedy was aided by campaign donations from energy companies and the insurance industry, as well as independent spending by the Ohio Republican Party. Her campaign reported raising more than $950,000, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state Republican Party, corporate interest groups, and law firms that appear before the court.

To speak with CAP experts, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].