Detroit News editorials don’t often agree with Justice at Stake. Yet an editorial in the Michigan newspaper Friday embraces as “scathing” the findings of JAS and two partner groups about weak state disclosure rules for judicial campaign spending. The editorial says:
“A new study by a set of national public interest groups notes that in the 2010 election cycle, Michigan had the nation’s most expensive state Supreme Court race. And thanks to the state’s weak disclosure laws, the source of a great deal of that money remains invisible to voters.”
“The report did not focus solely on Michigan, but its sections on the lack of accountability for spending on our high court elections is scathing.”
The editorial was part of a wave of commentary and news coverage that followed release Thursday of “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10″ by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics (see Gavel Grab).
Spending in the 2010 Michigan Supreme Court election may have exceeded $11 million, with the candidates spending only a combined $2.3 million of that sum. Of the remainder, much was spent by special interest groups whose activity was obscured because so-called “issue advertising” is basically exempt from campaign finance disclosure rules, the editorial notes.
The national report “underscores the need, long sought by this state’s campaign finance watchdog, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, for better disclosure rules for spending by independent groups and issue ads,” the editorial says. MCFN is a JAS partner group. “Michigan shouldn’t have the dubious distinction of being a national leader in weak disclosure rules.”
An Associated Press article about the “New Politics” report and Michigan quoted Rich Robinson, MCFN executive director, as saying, “The fact that Michigan led the nation in undisclosed spending in a state judicial campaign is a distinction of dishonor.”
Among the latest outlets featuring the report were the Madison County (Il.) Record, the Albany (New York) Times Union and Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C.