Call for Transparency in Michigan Cites JAS Report

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004An op-ed in the Traverse City Record-Eagle cites the recent Bankrolling the Bench report in making the case for more government transparency in Michigan.  Columnist George Weeks writes that a recent study by the The Center for Public Integrity “ranks Michigan dead last in overall government transparency.”

He goes on to cite a Detroit Free Press piece by Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, headlined “Michigan continues its dark money streak” (see Gavel Grab), noting that the 2014 Michigan Supreme Court race was “the most expensive and least transparent in the nation.” The piece cites Bankrolling the Bench, by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, as the source of data on the race.

Weeks also quotes Robinson on Michigan’s history of costly Supreme Court races. “This is the third election cycle in a row that we’ve had that distinction and that’s a hat trick that shouldn’t should be a point of pride,” Robinson wrote of the 2014 election.  Earlier this year, Pennsylvania set a new record for expensive state Supreme Court races, logging the costliest such race in U.S. history (see Gavel Grab).

Commentary: Take Stand Against Political Tampering With our Courts

Kansas-Flag-2Kansas courts could be “in the crosshairs” next year when five of seven state Supreme Court justices, and six of 14 judges on the state Court of Appeals will be on the Election Day ballot, attorney F. James Robinson Jr. writes in a Wichita Eagle op-ed. He cites Bankrolling the Bench: The New politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, co-authored by Justice at Stake and two partner organizations.

That recently released report “chose Kansas’ 2014 Supreme Court retention race as one of the worst examples of politicians exploiting these elections for political gain,” Robinson maintains. And already, the Kansas courts are under assault from elected legislators, with one measure having the potential to strip the entire judicial branch of its funding.

A recent Defense Research Institute poll found majority, bipartisan opposition to politicians’ appeals to slash court funds, strip courts of certain authority or dump judges based on disagreement with a court ruling. Robinson finds encouragement in these findings: (more…)

JAS: States That Elect Judges Are Approaching ‘Code Red’

corrupt justiceThe record-breaking, $16.5 million Pennsylvania Supreme Court election this month is no aberration, Scott Greytak of Justice at Stake writes for the blog of The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. 

“Its sky-high spending, ad war among special interests, and dominance by candidates who spent the most all fit into a pattern. This grim picture threatens the evenhanded justice that our Constitution promises, and raises troubling questions about whether justice is indeed for sale,” writes Greytak.

He then compares what happened in Pennsylvania with themes of the previous election cycle as documented in Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14. Greytak, JAS policy counsel and research analyst, was lead author of the report, coauthored with The Brennan Center for Justice and National Institute on Money in State Politics. (more…)

Commentary: ‘Pay-to-Play’ Court Race Perception in N.C.?

A recent report documenting surging special interest spending on judicial elections, coauthored by Justice at Stake, continues to get news media coverage in high-spending states — including in less populated areas.

In North Carolina, a commentary by Patrick Gannon of the Capitol Press Association, about what Gannon called the corrupting influence of money on judicial races, was published in The Greenville Daily Reflector and The Salisbury Post.

Gannon sums up what Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14 identifies as trends in the big-spending 2014 North Carolina Supreme Court election, and he comes away worried. Also coauthoring the report were The Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. (more…)

Bloomberg Cites JAS on Spending ‘Arms Race’ in Judicial Elections

In state judicial elections, outside spending seems to “approaching a tipping point,” Justice at Stake’s Scott Greytak told Bloomberg BNA’s Big Law Business for its lengthy article about judicial elections. “It’s on a path where the majority of spending could soon be from the outside.”

“It’s essentially created an arms race situation,” added Greytak, JAS policy counsel and research analyst, and lead author of the recently released Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14. “It’s a high-stakes fight for the ideological composition of these courts.”

In “The Outside Influence of State Judicial Elections,” Bloomberg BNA reported on a record level of outside spending detailed in the past judicial election cycle. It delved into issues raised by a high-spending Illinois Supreme Court retention election in 2014 and then fast-forwarded to this month in Pennsylvania, where a state Supreme Court election set a national spending record at more than $16.5 million. (more…)

JAS, Partner, in Atlantic: When ‘Big Money’ Props up Harsh Sentences

When special interest groups channel big spending into judicial elections, including “tough-on-crime” ads aimed at exploiting public safety issues, it can harm impartial justice and public trust in our courts, Scott Greytak of Justice at Stake and Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice write in an Atlantic essay.

Their essay is headlined, “The Big Money Propping Up Harsh Sentences: Special-interest groups are funneling millions of dollars into state-court elections, taking a toll on justice and public confidence in judges.” It is drawn in part from the recent report they co-authored, Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14. The Atlantic article goes further to cite record-breaking spending in the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court election, and new research about special interest spending:

“Of the 18 organizations that ran criminal-justice-themed ads in state supreme court elections from 2011 to 2014, only three have positions on the issue listed on their websites. Instead, many groups focus on taxes, the size of government, tort reform, or other business interests.”


‘Bankrolling the Bench’ Report Spotlighted in W.Va. Commentary

Two activists in West Virginia, citing a new report by Justice at Stake and its partner organizations, conclude that “the evidence is overwhelming: special interests and partisan politicians are exploiting judicial elections to stack our courts in their favor.”

Julie Archer and Natalie Thompson, co-coordinators of WV Citizens for Clean Elections, highlight their concerns in a Charleston Gazette-Mail op-ed. They refer to Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, which was released last week by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the National Institute on Money in State Politics (see Gavel Grab). 

Archer and Thompson also discuss reforms. “The good news is that there is a range of solutions that can go a long way toward fixing this problem,” they write. “They include public financing of judicial elections, which West Virginia adopted in 2010, along with strong disclosure of political spending so we know who’s trying to influence our elections, and tough recusal rules to make sure that special interests can’t buy justice. 

‘Bankrolling the Bench’ Gets Media Attention in States

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.24.23 PMA news outlet in still another state included in Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14 has featured the report’s findings, at the same time raising concern about “The best justice money can buy.”

An Arkansas Times blog post focused on “dark money TV ads” aired in a 2014 state Supreme Court race. Attorney Tim Cullen was defeated by Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne. The Law Enforcement Alliance of America, an outside group, funded advertising attacking Cullen. The ad said Cullen “worked to throw out the sentence of a repeat sexual predator, arguing that child pornography was a ‘victimless crime.’” Cullen retorted that the ad was “a lie.”

Bankrolling the Bench was issued by Justice at Stake, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and The National Institute on Money in State Politics. Since its release last week it has gotten news coverage across the country.

An Illinois Public Radio newscast, meanwhile, focused on outside spending — which reached a record high level of 29 percent in judicial elections nationwide during the period, and which was higher in Illinois than in any other state judicial election. Scott Greytak of Justice at Stake, the (more…)

‘Bankrolling the Bench’ Grabs Media Coverage Across Country

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.11.37 PMReaders and leaders across the country are getting a chance to learn more about surging special-interest spending in state judicial elections. Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, released Thursday, is getting widespread media attention, especially in states that saw the most expensive races.

Report co-authors Scott Greytak of Justice at Stake and Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School interpreted the findings in a Huffington Post commentary titled, “Money Flooding State Court Elections Threatens the Promise of Equal Justice.” They wrote: “Special interest money is flooding into our state Supreme Court elections, gravely threatening the impartial justice that our Constitution promises — and raising troubling questions about whether courtroom decisions are for sale.” The National Institute on Money in State Politics also joined in writing Bankrolling the Bench. 

In other national news media, Politico summed up the report, saying, “Outside spending by PACs, 501(c)(4)s and other interest groups rose to a record 29 percent of total spending, or $10.1 million, in 2013-14 judicial elections,” according to JAS and its two partner organizations. And Public Citizen blogged, “Bankrolling the Bench: New Report Demonstrates Need for SEC to Require Political Spending Disclosure.” (more…)

JAS: States With Judicial Elections Are ‘Reaching a Tipping Point’

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdStates that hold elections to choose top judges are “reaching a tipping point,” Justice at Stake cautioned on Thursday, given evidence of high spending to shape state courts, a record level of spending by special interests, and spending by those who will come before a judge.

Scott Greytak, Justice at Stake Policy counsel and Research Analyst, sounded the warning at a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C. held to unveil a detailed study of the latest state Supreme Court campaign trends, “Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14.”

The report’s release was especially timely because next week, Pennsylvanians will go to the polls to elect three state Supreme Court justices in what is now making history as the most expensive high court election in that state (see Gavel Grab), noted Liz Seaton, JAS Interim Executive Director. “The problems are getting worse” with judicial elections in states across America, she said. (more…)