Underground Supreme Court campaign

60% of TV ads are off the books

LANSING – Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor and Judge Diane Marie Hathaway already have raised more than $2 million for their Supreme Court election contest: Taylor: $1.8 million and Hathaway: $370,000.

Taylor's campaign has spent $1,265,000 for television advertisements while Hathaway's campaign hasn't purchased TV time. However, the campaigns of record soon may be eclipsed by the undisclosed “issue” campaign. Through October 27th, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee have spent $1,783,000 for television advertisements that seek to define the record, qualifications and character of one candidate or the other, and the spending probably isn’t over.

Under Michigan’s campaign finance law, the Chamber and the Democratic Party don’t have to report the spending in their campaign finance reports because the advertisements don’t mention voting. The nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network collected the television ad records from the public files of Michigan’s commercial broadcasters and cable systems.

Neither does the Chamber or the Democratic Party have to disclose who gave them the money to pay for the ad time. This is in contrast to federal campaign finance law, where contributors to candidate-focused issue advertising are identified in the public record.

“The peril in this is that an individual or interest group could secretly spend a million dollars to market a candidate – a very important contribution, and then have that justice vote to select its case and rule on its case,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “That has considerable potential for conflict of interests and it certainly creates a troubling appearance.”

“The total lack of accountability for these candidate-focused issue ads is probably the most confounding aspect of our campaign finance system to the voters I meet and talk to,” Robinson said. "Citizens just can't believe that policymakers won't act to bring transparency to this situation."

From 2000 through 2006, the candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court raised and spent $10.4 million in their campaign committees. During the same period the major political parties and the Michigan Chamber spent $10.5 million for issue ads. The Chamber has been the biggest purveyor of candidate-focused Supreme Court issue ads.

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Press Release 2008 News