Michigan 'Dark Money' Imperils Fair Courts, Watchdog Warns

The undisclosed, so-called “dark money” that flooded this year’s Michigan Supreme Court election poses a grave threat to fair and impartial courts, watchdog Rich Robinson writes in a commentary published by Dome Magazine.

Robinson heads Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a JAS partner group. By his tally, candidates spent $3.4 million in this year’s judicial election, compared to $11 million spent for TV ads by the state political parties and a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The TV ad expenditures, however, were not reported in state disclosure reports. Overall, he says, “undisclosed outspent candidates, 3-1.”

And that is a source of major concern for our courts, Robinson continues:

“This is a big problem. Nobody has the motivation to spend big money in a judicial race like a litigant with a high-stakes case in the appeals pipeline. Imagine being in court opposing the person who financed the campaign of the justice who is going to decide your case. Imagine not knowing it, so you can’t make a legitimate motion for recusal. Dark money undermines the whole premise of judicial impartiality.”

In April, a bipartisan task force examining judicial selection in Michigan called for sweeping reforms, foremost among them the full disclosure of those funding Supreme Court campaign ads (see Gavel Grab).

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