Archive for April 10th, 2012

Super PACs Now Buying Judges, Too

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

We all know the impact the Super PACs are having on who will be representing us in our state and national governments.  Most senators, congressmen, governors, etc., are now pretty much bought-and-paid-for by Big Money’s deep pockets.  This is largely thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision which found that financial limits cannot be placed on them.  Apparently, the Court feels that corporations are "people", too, and therefor have a constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech.  In other words, corporations and fat donors dumping tons of money on political candidates are protected by the Bill of Rights!  

This, of course, opened the floodgates:  Big Money is now busily exercising their newly-discovered "free speech" by  buying up judges, too….


Super PACs, Donors Turn Sights on Judicial Branch

Orlando, FL.  Mar 29
– Just before sunset on a recent evening, scores of lawyers in dark suits and polished loafers streamed into the swanky 18th-floor ballroom of a downtown high-rise here. They sipped chardonnay and nursed Heinekens, munched on cheese cubes and made small talk.

The invitation to the event had asked for a “suggested contribution” of $500 to each of three candidates, who were now mingling sheepishly among the crowd. They were no ordinary politicians. In fact, they weren’t politicians at all, but rather Florida Supreme Court justices. Each has been in office since the 1990s, each retained by voters overwhelmingly in previous elections, and each now reluctantly campaigning — for the first time.

 While deep-pocketed super PACs and ultra-wealthy donors have attracted plenty of attention in the presidential contest this year, they are also making waves further down the political food chain. The mere possibility that a rich benefactor or interest group with endless amounts of money could swoop in, write massive checks and remake an entire court for ideological reasons has prompted judges here in Florida and elsewhere to prepare for battles they never expected to fight.

The three justices sipping water and shaking hands in the ballroom decided months ago that they needed to campaign early and hard. They saw two of their colleagues targeted in 2010 after the court refused to allow a ballot measure opposing a key provision in President Obama’s health-care plan. They knew the organizers of that effort, angry about what they call “judicial activism,” had promised to step up their campaign and had formed a political organization that by law can raise unlimited money.

The judges were less than excited about having to ask people for money.

“It is almost embarrassing to be doing it,” Justice Fred Lewis said…

Those challenging the judges say their actions offer a way to inform the public and hold the judiciary accountable. The judges say they welcome accountability but want to protect the independence of the bench.

Like judges elsewhere, those in Florida remain rattled by what happened two years ago in Iowa, where three state Supreme Court justices who had upheld a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage lost their jobs after a vitriolic million-dollar campaign to unseat them — money coming almost entirely from outside the state. In the preceding decade, not a single dollar had reportedly been spent on Iowa’s high court elections…

Judicial elections have long drawn the interest of wealthy benefactors, business and labor groups, and trial lawyers, but watchdog groups say they are particularly troubled by a new trend: The universe of big donors has grown smaller and more concentrated.

In a 2010 study that examined 29 judicial races, the watchdog group Justice at Stake found that the top five spenders averaged $473,000 apiece, while all other donors averaged $850. In addition, loopholes in disclosure laws gave those big donors ways to spend money “in substantial secrecy,” the report found.

“Outside forces are becoming a bigger deal,” said Roy Schotland, a Georgetown University law professor and expert on judicial elections. “We’re seeing more takeover of the races from the outside.”

Schotland said state judicial races are increasingly becoming “floating auctions,” in which special-interest groups focus money and manpower in states where they can upend judges they don’t like. “The justices are like sitting ducks,” he said…


I wonder what the going price is for a judge?
 

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