NYT: Super PACS Throwing Money at Judicial Races

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 01:02 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Money has started pouring into crucial judicial elections to pay for a growing number of attacks ads as the revolution in campaign financing has taken grip.

Super PACs and special interest groups have stepped up their spending to help their candidates in these races, which in the past were largely ignored in funding terms, according to The New York Times.

"Judicial races are getting swamped in this tidal wave of political money," said Bert Brandenburg, a former Justice Department official who is now the executive director of Justice at Stake, an advocacy group in Washington.

In 2012, $30 million was spent nationwide on TV advertising for state court races, often with negative ads, according to joint report last year by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the amount is expected to keep rising.

Lawyer Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center at New York University said, "We’ve seen a flood of special interest money pouring into state Supreme Court races. It often goes toward ads attacking judges’ criminal records, even when the interest group is focused on business interests or other unrelated issues."

The Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, which had focused on promoting conservatives in state legislatures and governors’ races, has recently announced a Judicial Fairness Initiative to target judicial races, as well, the Times reported.

The grant program will spend millions to "focus on educating voters to better understand the ideology of candidates up for judicial branch elections," said the committee’s president, Matt Walter.

Justice at Stake says that judges on higher courts are elected rather than appointed in 22 states, and in 16 more they must face retention elections after their selection.

Legal experts say corporations, unions and other special interest segments want state judges with similar opinions because their rulings can affect redistricting and laws on major issues, such as liability, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation.

However, the cash influx from major companies, the unions, and other outside groups, has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, the Times said.

In North Carolina, a recent ad claimed that Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson coddled child molesters and "sided with the predators" in a lawsuit before the state’s top jurists.

When she first saw the oft-repeated ad, Hudson recalled thinking, "'Oh, my God, give me a break.' It’s outrageous and false, and they sure know how to distort a photo to make you look terrible."

The commercial, however, was not paid for by one of Hudson’s two conservative opponents in the primary race on Tuesday, but by a special interest group that had just received $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee.

In fact, the primary race for Hudson’s Supreme Court seat has generated more than $1 million in campaign funds, mostly from independent groups, including the RSLC and an offshoot of the state Chamber of Commerce, which is touting Hudson’s rivals with donations from such companies as Reynolds American, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Koch Industries.

Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C., which tracks spending and TV ads, said, "The sitting justice could be primaried out because of this avalanche of independent spending on behalf of the two conservative candidates."

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