LANSING, MI – A new report issued today about the influence of special interest money in state judicial campaigns highlights the 2006 Supreme Court contests in Michigan in which two justices were barely challenged but still raised close to $1 million between them.
Special interest pressure is metastasizing into a permanent national threat to the fairness and impartiality of America’s courts, according to report issued today by the Washington-based Justice at Stake Campaign and its partners, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the National Institute for Money in State Politics.
A new opinion survey released by the Committee for Economic Development in concert with the report shows that four out of five business leaders worry that campaign contributions have at least some influence on decisions rendered by judges.
The report specifically highlights a 2006 Michigan Supreme Court race featuring incumbent Justice Maura Corrigan. Although she faced nominal opposition, Justice Corrigan raised nearly $680,000 and also benefited from an additional $700,000 worth of television advertising support from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Another Michigan Supreme Justice facing token opposition, Michael Cavanagh, raised over $300,000 for his race.
Another concern is that the special interest money that pays for most political ads goes unreported. Since 2000, Michigan Supreme Court campaigns have been significantly influenced by anonymously funded television advertisements. Reform advocates point out that because of weak campaign finance laws, campaign ads that do not explicitly recommend a candidate do not have to be reported.
“Under our current structure, spending is not reported, contributors are not disclosed and there is no restriction against using corporate or union treasury funds to pay for judicial campaign ads,” said Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “Furthermore, once our newly elected justices take the bench, there is no standard for recusal that prohibits them from hearing their financial supporter’s case.”
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network urges the state to adopt political advertising and conflict of interest reforms that restore faith in Michigan’s judicial system.
The full Justice at Stake Campaign report and related materials are available online at www.justiceatstake.org or by calling 202-588-9454.