If you thought politics was dirty, try justice. For the past ten years, runaway spending has been funneled into state judicial races so special interests could buy a friendly justice. After the January ruling of Citizens United further enabled the flow of corporate money into elections, the danger of judicial corruption threatens to undermine all confidence in justice.
“When our children go to school, they need to be safe. In our homes and neighborhoods, we need to be safe. Our sheriffs and district attorneys are on the front lines, protecting us. And you know what? Our judges need to know they also must protect us.”
Guess what that bought?
That was a television ad that bought a Wisconsin manufacturers and commerce group, the state’s largest business lobby, a new and much more “friendly” state supreme court judge.
Welcome to the new game: Runaway spending buys state judges.
The bipartisan Brennan Center Reports this morning:
“Spending on state Supreme Court elections has more than doubled in the past decade, from $83.3 million in 1990-1999 to $206.9 million in 2000-2009, according to a report released today by the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. For more than a decade, partisans and special interests of all stripes have grown more organized in their efforts to tilt the scales of justice their way. This surge in spending—much of it funneled through secret channels—has fundamentally transformed state Supreme Court elections.”
Then, to make matters worse, on January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which poses a special threat to judicial elections. The ruling invalidated the long-standing federal ban on corporate independent expenditures in elections, opening the doors for unrestricted corporate and union spending on judicial seats.
So who’s spending what? Money is pouring in to state judicial races from The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trial lawyers and unions. According to The Brennan Center report: “The two sides bring starkly different profiles. The right has brought together big-name groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, leaders of corporate giants such as Home Depot and AIG Insurance, and political actors like Karl Rove. Bankrollers on the left tend to be wealthy plaintiffs’ lawyers, who often use state party organizations to hide the extent of their financial backing of a candidate.”
Just what’s at stake? NPR reported that in 2004, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship spent $3 million, to unseat a justice he expected would rule against Massey in a lawsuit. This however, proved too much for the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Blankenship’s money had tainted the justice’s ability to hear the case.
The looming threat of Citizens United v. FEC on elections for legislative and executive offices is scary enough. But the real dirt is behind closed doors, in state judicial elections. With runaway spending on judicial seats, corrupt industries with billions of dollars at stake are looking for a friendly judge. One they can mold and manipulate into handing down friendly decisions.
“The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.” ~~ George Washington
Once again we see the importance of tighter restrictions, public financing and campaign finance reform.