In 2010, spending on campaigns for two Michigan Supreme Court seats led the nation’s judicial elections. This year, with three Supreme Court seats in contention, may bring the state’s most expensive judicial elections ever, a Michigan Radio report suggests.
And that big spending trend has significant costs, reporter Lester Graham says:
“Lots of campaign money is being spent to influence the election of Michigan Supreme Court justices. That makes people wonder how judges can be impartial. After all, some of the justices owe their position on the bench to people who have given them millions of dollars.”
“It isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, this money does have influence. Common sense tells you it does. I’ve been there,” former Supreme Court Justice Betty Weaver told Michigan Radio.
Graham mentions ideas discussed by reforms to protect fair and impartial courts. They include replacing judicial elections with appointment using non-partisan commissions, 24-hour campaign contribution disclosure requirements, and disclosure of all spending that benefits a judicial candidate.
The Michigan Radio report quotes Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a watchdog and JAS partner group, as warning that much of the money in judicial elections skirts the rules that candidates are required to follow. Most of the special-interest spending in Michigan’s 2010 judicial elections was concealed from the public; to learn more, see “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009-10,” a report co-authored by Justice at Stake.