Here we go again: A $20M Supreme Court campaign?

LANSING – A nasty, noisy and ridiculously expensive Michigan Supreme Court election campaign may be in the offing once again in 2008. Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer have both raised the possibility of a $20 million campaign next year when Chief Justice Taylor runs for a second full term on the court. A $20 million campaign would have the dubious distinction of being twice the current national spending record for a state supreme court race.

The issue of Supreme Court campaign finances is under deliberation in the Michigan House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Paul Condino (D-Southfield) has convened a series of hearings on the absence of recusal, or self-disqualification, procedures for the Michigan Supreme Court. Federal District Judge Avern Cohen reported to the committee that a study by the American Judicature Society found that Michigan is alone among the 50 states in not having such standards.

In a hearing on October 10th, Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network referred to Michigan’s Supreme Court campaign finance environment as “an incubator for conflicts of interest.” Since 2000, Supreme Court campaigns have cost more than $23 million, with $10 million of that total spent by anonymous contributors for candidate focused issue advertising.

Robinson urged the committee to push for recusal standards and adopt other reforms, including mandatory disclosure of contributors to issue ad campaigns and full public funding for Supreme Court campaigns. He noted that anonymously funded issue ads could conceal from consideration whether a conflict is present in a future court case, and he advised the committee that a system of full public funding could relieve justices’ campaigns from having to solicit contributions from special interests that may subsequently appear before the court.

A forum will be held in Traverse City on Thursday, October 25th at 7 p.m. at the Oleson Center on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College to discuss controversial issues surrounding the Michigan Supreme Court, including campaign finances. The event is free and open to the public.

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