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Supreme Court Takes Up Campaign Contribution Rules for Judges

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the case of a Florida judicial candidate who argues the state's ban on letting candidates for the bench directly seek campaign contributions violates her First Amendment rights, the Associated Press reports. "The Florida Supreme Court upheld the ban in May, saying it was justified because such conduct raises an appearance of impropriety and may lead the public to question a judge's impartiality," AP further reports. The candidate argues the law is meaningless because campaign committees can directly seek contributions.

Elected Judges Threatening American Democracy?

Bert Brandenberg, executive director of Justice at Stake, has delved into the election of judges and the problems it poses for democracy. There have been record-breaking expenditures in races for the Tennessee Supreme Court ($1.4 million) and for the North Carolina Supreme Court ($1.3 million) this year: "Left unchecked, the tidal wave of judicial campaign cash will upend justice in America by pressuring courts to answer to political influence, by turning judges into fundraisers and by convincing disillusioned citizens that justice is for sale," he opines.

How did this come about? State supreme courts are now the battleground "in the nation’s long-running tort wars, pitting business interests, which are eager to limit damage awards, against plaintiffs and their allies, who contend that big-dollar judgments are critical to holding negligent businesses accountable," Brandenberg further argues.

Close to Million Dollars Spent on TN Supreme Court Race

As Tennesseans go to the polls today to vote on whether to keep three Supreme Court justices on the court, The Washington Post reports that almost a million dollars have been spent on ad campaigns in the judicial retention race. For example, a political action committee set up by the Republican lieutenant governor has contributed $425,000 to seek to defeat the retention of three Democratic justices. The justices raised $1 million themselves.

Outside Spending Increasing in Judicial Races

Outside spending has been increasing in judicial campaigns, including in a primary race for the North Carolina Supreme Court, the New York Times reports. The race for the seat of North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson has drawn more than $1 million, the Times further reports: "The costly and fierce primary shows how the revolution in financing political campaigns, with the surging role of 'super PACs' and other groups financed by corporations, unions and other interests, has entered what was the quieter arena of judicial elections."

Hudson won the primary, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Former Justice Stevens Backs Campaign Finance Reform

John Paul Stevens, the retired U.S. Supreme Court justice, testified this week that the United States should adopt a constitutional amendment for campaign finance reform, the Legal Times reports. He wants the amendment to read: "'Neither the First Amendment nor any provision of this Constitution'" would prohibit "'reasonable'" limits on campaign contributions at the federal or state level.

The Senate Rules Committee hearing focused on the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission to struck down limits on aggregate campaign contributions.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Limits On Campaign Contributions

The U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4, has struck down overall limits on campaign contributions to candidates, political parties and political action committees, the Associated Press reports. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority, said the overall limits intrude without justification on First Amendment activities. The court preserved a cap on donations to a single candidate, the AP further reports.

Correlation Between Outsider Judicial Campaign Spending & Anti-Defendant Rulings By State Supreme Courts

The Washington Post reports on a study done by liberal group Center for American Progress of "seven state supreme court elections in which spending exceeded $3 million for the first time between 2000 and 2007. CAP then compared rulings in the five years before and after those elections." The group found a correlation between that increased campaign spending, including by outside groups, with an increase by pro-prosecution, anti-criminal defendant rulings by state supreme courts. "Judges are supposed to base decisions on the law and the facts before them, not what voters want," The Washington Post wrote. "But as campaign spending continues to grow, pressure to avoid rulings that would play poorly in a 30-second ad continues to mount."


Second Circuit Rejects $150K Cap on Individual Giving to PACs

The Second Circuit has rejected a $150,000 cap on individual donations to political action committees and independent-expenditure groups, Newsday reports. The ruling rises out of legsl action by supporters for NYC Republican Mayoral Candidate Joe Lhota.

The court granted injunctive relief on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United holding "that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limited independent expenditures," The New York Law Journal reported. Their story:

GMO Lobbyist Faces Campaign Finance Suit Ahead of Vote on Labeling

Washington state has an upcoming vote on a measure that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods. Now the Washington State Attorney General alleges that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a major lobbying group for food manufacturers, violated campaign finance laws in its effort to oppose that measure, Reuters reports. The Attorney General alleges GMA has spent more than $7 million in its campaign against the proposed disclosure law "while shielding the identity of its contributors," Reuters reports.

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Denies Asking Lawyer for Campaign Donations

The Lexington Herald-Leader has this good yarn about a Kentucky Supreme Court justice who denies seeking campaign donations from a lawyer facing investigations, as well as a fraud lawsuit, over allegations he steered clients to an administrative law judge at the Social Security Administration:

"In early 2012, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott repeatedly drove to the Floyd County office of disability benefits lawyer Eric C. Conn, which is a chain of interconnected trailers along U.S. 23, fronted by a one-ton, 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln. Scott, who represents Eastern Kentucky on the high court, was on his way to raising $332,390 for a bruising re-election battle that fall. Conn was a multi-millionaire facing at least two federal investigations and a fraud lawsuit for allegedly rigging medical records and steering hundreds of his check-seeking clients to a judge who improperly approved their claims. A U.S. Senate committee spent five hours last week criticizing Conn's law practice at a nationally televised hearing. The men thought they could be useful to each other."

The lawyer ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for making straw donations to the justice's reelection campaign in the names of his employees, The Herald-Leader also reported.


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