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Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections

Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections

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Disclosure laws for corporation and individual donations to judicial elections allow voters to know who's spending money on electing certain judges—and whose side those judges will be on in trial.
Disclosure laws for corporation and individual donations to judicial elections allow voters to know who's spending money on electing certain judges—and whose side those judges will be on in trial.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Center for American Progress on Oct 12, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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1Center or American Progress | Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections
Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections
Billy Corriher October 16, 2012
Tis report is the rst in a series on dier ent policies that could help mitigate the inuence o corporate campaign cash in judicial elections. Te reports are intended or advocates or legisla-tors who want to ensure our justice system works or everyone, not just those with enoughmoney to donate.
 As his year’s elecion approaches, poliical atack ads are ooding he airwaves, ueled by unprecedened sums o money rom corporaions and wealhy individuals unding“independen” poliical ads.
Much o he money is unneled hrough nonpro organi-zaions ha do no disclose heir donors.
In Augus 2012 he Cener or American Progress issued a repor on how campaigndonaions rom big business have come o dominae judicial elecions, resuling in coursha avor corporaions over individual ciizens.
Our new repor concludes wih recom-mendaions or srong rules ha require reporing o all ads ha menion candidaes,including inormaion on hose who gave money o independen spenders. Saes shouldalso respond o Ciizens Unied by requiring corporaions engaged in poliical spending odisclose ha inormaion o heir shareholders. Alhough disclosure laws usually apply o elecions or all branches o governmen, heserecommendaions were made specically wih judicial campaigns in mind. Judicial elec-ions involve unique ineress ha make he need or ransparency in campaign nanceeven greaer han in oher elecions.In a series o cases sriking down campaign nance reorm laws, ederal cours haveopened he door o unlimied poliical spending by osensibly “independen” groups.
 Te U.S. Supreme Cour in Ciizens Unied v. Federal Elecion Commission overruled a1990 case ha hwared an atemp by he Michigan Chamber o Commerce, a non-pro corporaion under Michigan law, o spend is general reasury unds on poliicalads in he local newspaper. Since 2000 he organizaion has become a major player in
2Center or American Progress | Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections
 judicial races, having purchased $8.3 million in ads or Michigan Supreme Cour candi-daes—$8.3 million, which was no repored under sae law.
Te rapid rise in unlimied independen spending is even more alarming when he poli-icians in quesion are judges, who are supposed o be rue o he law, no o campaignconribuors. Voers are no surprised when legislaors are responsive o heir campaigndonors, bu in a courroom, ordinary ciizens should sand on he same ooing ashose mos powerul in our sociey. Jusice is supposed o be blind, bu polls sugges Americans are concerned ha campaign cash will inuence judges’ rulings.
In his dissen in Ciizens Unied, U.S. Supreme Cour Jusice John Paul Sevens said hemajoriy’s decision “unleashes he oodgaes o corporae and union general reasury spending” in judicial elecions. He worried ha “Saes ... may no longer have he abiliy o place modes limis on corporae elecioneering even i hey believe such limis o becriical o mainaining he inegriy o heir judicial sysems.
Jusice Sevens’s warningseemed prescien when he Supreme Cour—wihou a hearing or oral argumen—hrew ou Monana’s law requiring corporaions o regiser as poliical acion commi-ees in order o air poliical ads.
In Ciizens Unied, a ve-jusice majoriy swep aside Jusice Sevens’s concerns andheld ha resricions on corporae elecioneering violae he Firs Amendmen. Te U.S.Supreme Cour ruled ha independen expendiures by corporaions “do no give rise ocorrupion or he appearance o corrupion.
Te Cour’s decision resed on he premiseha more poliical speech, even corporae speech, means more inormaion or voers.
In he same vein, Ciizens Unied upheld disclosure requiremens in ederal campaignnance law. Jusice Anhony Kennedy said disclosure “enables he elecorae o makeinormed decisions and give proper weigh o dieren speakers and messages.
TusCiizens Unied guted resricions on corporae elecioneering and le disclosure as heonly possible check on corporae poliical power.
Several circui cours have relied onCiizens Unied in upholding disclosure rules.
 Wihou eecive disclosure laws, he growing ide o unlimied anonymous campaigncash hreaens o overwhelm judicial elecions. Candidaes or sae Supreme Courshave shatered undraising records in recen elecions, and more saes are seeing specialineres money ood judicial elecions.
Te gures or independen spending are hardo discern because he saes’ disclosure rules vary widely. I is clear ha independenspending has exceeded direc spending by he candidaes in many saes,
meaning haspecial ineres groups—no he candidaes—se he one o he campaigns.One criic o sricer disclosure laws, Sen. Mich McConnell (R-KY), claims ha suchmeasures are “an eor by he governmen isel o expose is criics o harassmen andinimidaion.”
Te U.S. Chamber o Commerce agrees wih his assessmen, calling he
3Center or American Progress | Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections
ederal DISCLOSE Ac
an eor o “upend irrerievably core Firs Amendmen proec-ions o poliical speech in he monhs leading up o an elecion.
Te Supreme Courhas repeaedly rejeced argumens ha such concerns render disclosure rules unconsi-uional.
Te Cour has said ha i a spender can demonsrae ha disclosure wouldlead o inimidaion, hen applying he rules in ha case may be unconsiuional.
Tusar, opponens o disclosure have ailed o produce any such evidence.Disclosure is a commonsense reorm, and polls sugges he vas majoriy o ciizens—Republican and Democra alike—suppor disclosure.
Tese rules are crucial or judi-cial elecions because hey deermine wheher voers can nd ou who is running adsor judicial candidaes. Jusice Sevens noed in his Ciizens Unied dissen ha a liigancan argue ha a judge should recuse hersel or receiving campaign conribuions roman opposing liigan,
bu when inormaion on campaign spending is no made public,his righ o a rial beore an unbiased judge canno be availed.Many saes have no ye adaped o he new campaign nance landscape. Norh Dakoaand Indiana, or example, have no rules requiring disclosure o independen spending.Michigan has rules governing independen spending, bu hey all well shor o ull dis-closure. Maryland, on he oher hand, reaced o Ciizens Unied by enacing rules harequire more disclosure rom corporaions engaged in poliics.
Independent spending in Michigan Supreme Court elections, 2000-2010
$20 million in unreported spending
0 $5,000,000 $10,000,000 $15,000,000 $20,000,000
Michigan Campaign Finance Network, $70 Million Hidden in Plain View, Appendix A, June 2011,http://www.mcn.org/pds/reports/MICFN_HiddenInPlainViewP-rev.pd 

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