Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Disclosure' Category

Commentary: Avoid Further Secrecy on Judicial Applicants’ Names

It’s good for the public to have the names of applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court, a Wichita Eagle editorial page blog says. The writer, Rhonda Holman, says this transparency would be endangered if legislators change the state constitution to dump the current merit selection process for picking justices.

For a new vacancy on the high court, 14 people have applied for consideration by a judicial nominating commission, and they include four members of the state Court of Appeals. Holman notes that this kind of transparency was not in effect when Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a new judge to the Court of Appeals last year; the legislature had changed, by passing a new law, the process for selection of Court of Appeals judges (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Campaign Finance Measures Advance in California, Massachusetts

campaign_financeCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown said he will allow citizens to vote this fall on an advisory measure asking Congress to revise the U.S. Constitution and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United was “wrongly decided and grossly underestimated the corrupting influence of unchecked money on our democratic institutions,” the governor said in a message to legislators, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, he said the advisory measure would have no legal effect and he would not sign it.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the state House has passed legislation to require greater public disclosure by super PACs, and the Senate will consider it. Read more

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A New Push for ‘Dark Money’ Disclosure in Texas

All members of the House State Affairs Committee in Texas have signed a letter urging the Texas Ethics Commission to use its rule-making authority to adopt a “dark money” disclosure rule.

dark_money_email_image“We believe the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence elections — and that the integrity of our electorate depends on disclosure so that the electorate can be fully informed,” the letter said.

“We DO NOT support requiring disclosure of all donors to non-profit organizations. However, we believe that the commission can, under current law, require disclosure of donors and their contributions, if those contributions are used to make direct campaign expenditures as defined by the Election Code.” Read more

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New Resources on Judicial Transparency, and Congress & Judiciary

The National Law Journal has published a special report entitled “Judicial Transparency,”  making available online 257 financial disclosure statements by federal appellate judges for 2012.

From the disclosure statements, the publication has produced articles entitled “Paying for Prestige,” about the “special relationship between judges and law schools,” and “Judicial Disclosure Reports Don’t Tell All,” about extensive redactions in many of the statements. Further articles are promised.

There also is a lot of food for thought for court-watchers in a commentary by Bruce Peabody of Fairleigh Dickinson University at the Journalist’s Resource web page. Focusing on the U.S. House of Representatives, it is Read more

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HI Legislature Supports Disclosure of Judicial Finalists’ Names

Both chambers of Hawaii’s legislature have passed, with no dissenting votes, a proposed constitutional amendment to require disclosure of the names recommended by a judicial screening commission for appointment as judges.

Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, reported on the legislative action. Proponents of the measure say the public deserves to know the finalists’ names, while opponents contend an attorney’s practice can be harmed if it is known publicly that he or she is aspiring to the bench.

In November, voters will consider the proposed constitutional amendment, Gavel to Gavel said, as well as another that would raise from 70 to 80 the mandatory retirement age for judges.

 

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Unprecedented Financial Disclosure by Candidates for S.C. Chief Justice

On Wednesday, the South Carolina General Assembly will decide an historic election, according to The State newspaper, by voting to keep state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal in her post or by electing Associate Justice Costa Pleicones to succeed her.

It is the first time in  memory that an associate justice has challenged a chief justice for the seat. It is unprecedented that the candidates have publicly released details of income sources and assets, a step they took voluntarily, the newspaper said.

Greg Adams, a University of South Carolina School of Law ethics professor, said that regardless of who wins the election, the public has gained by the candidates’ disclosure.

“This should become the norm for all state judges,” Adams said. “When people have their lives and fortunes at stake in court, it is important for them to know the judge on their case is impartial and doesn’t have any financial ties that might appear to jeopardize that independence.”

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Washington Post Publishes JAS Letter Calling for Disclosure

In a letter to the editor published by The Washington Post, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg made a strong appeal for states with judicial elections to adopt robust disclosure laws. The letter also mentioned a recent, comprehensive report on spending in judicial elections coauthored by Justice at Stake with two partner organizations.

“Americans worry that justice is for sale,” Brandenburg wrote. “Voters have a right to know who is paying to put judges on their courts, and states that elect judges should immediately enact strong, real-time disclosure- ­reporting laws so that special-interest spending in judicial elections is forced into the sunlight.”

The letter noted a Post editorial, “Dark money labyrinth,” for urging that big political spenders who hide behind a veil of secrecy in federal elections change their ways and exercise transparency instead. The editorial identified a “labyrinth” of hidden political spending in federal elections, and Brandenburg discussed a parallel development in numerous states that often is overlooked:

 ”A surge in independent spending is invading the election of state supreme court justices, and much of it comes from hidden sources. According to a report we recently co-authored, ‘New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12,’ special-interest groups spent an unprecedented $15.4 million on TV ads and other election materials in state Read more

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Spotlight Cast on Dark Money, and Seeking Political Control in States

A rising tide of political “dark money” — that is, cash whose sources are hidden — was spotlighted by two leading U.S. newspapers in recent days. A lengthy New York Times article examined a growing national strategy behind the funding of numerous successful efforts to win political party monopolies in states, and the frequent funneling to states of money from secret donors; while a Washington Post editorial urged donor transparency.

In the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” report it coauthored last fall, Justice at Stake similarly underscored similar trends, especially the use of money from hidden donors, in state judicial elections:

“Many of the top-spending special interest groups in 2011-12 shrouded their agendas and donor lists in secrecy. …Efforts to delve deeper by looking into the ‘donors’ donors’ result in varying degrees of additional clarity. In many cases, reviewing donor lists is like peeling back the layers of an onion, as the next level of contributors contains names of more umbrella groups. In other cases, attempting to go deeper leads to a dead end, as weak state disclosure laws and provisions of the federal tax code allow donors to avoid scrutiny.”

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Law Dean Laments New Anti-Disclosure Law in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent signing into law of a measure that exempts “issue ads” from disclosure has the effect of making it easier for special interests to influence government and making it harder “for the rest of us,” an election law expert says.

Jocelyn Benson (photo), interim dean for the Wayne State Law School, voiced her opinion in a Detroit News op-ed.  The law has special implications for continuing anonymity of big spenders on judicial elections.

Benson noted, “In 2012, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network estimated that donors poured over 14 million dollars into ads attempting to influence our vote in the Michigan Supreme Court race.” Read more

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Michigan Governor Signs What Critics Call ‘Dark Money’ Bill

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (photo) has signed into law controversial legislation that would exempt disclosure of spending for “issue ads” and would double individual campaign contribution limits, according to MichiganRadio.org.

Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a Justice at Stake partner organization, wrote a letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press that protested, “Gov. Snyder’s support of dark money taints his legacy.”

At MLive.com, Snyder defended the legislation in an op-ed entitled, “New law increases transparency, upholds cornerstone of electoral system.” Read more

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