Veridict is in: Campaign Cash and Justice Don't Mix

In this update: 1. New poll shows public believes campaign cash taints court rulings 2. Commentary: Supreme Court auctions can become elections again 3. Reform bills introduced in Assembly 4. Goodbye newspapers, hello corruption Veridict is in: Campaign Cash and Justice Don’t Mix 

Email date: 2/23/09

In this update:
1. New poll shows public believes campaign cash taints court rulings
2. Commentary: Supreme Court auctions can become elections again
3. Reform bills introduced in Assembly
4. Goodbye newspapers, hello corruption

In our last E-Lert, we reported on a West Virginia lawsuit that has made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court dealing with whether a judge should rule on a case involving election supporters.

Regardless of how the nation’s highest court decides Caperton v. Massey, the public already has passed judgment on the matter. A new national poll by Harris Interactive shows that Americans overwhelmingly doubt a judge’s impartiality if a party to a case has contributed heavily to the judge’s election, and the public strongly believes judges should step aside in such cases.

More than two-thirds of those polled said they would doubt a judge’s neutrality if one party had spent $50,000 to elect the judge. Those doubting the judge’s impartiality jumped to nearly three-quarters of respondents if one side spent $1 million to elect the judge.

Such questions are hardly an abstraction. In the West Virginia case, a coal executive spent $3 million to elect a new Supreme Court justice who then cast the deciding vote to overturn a $50 million jury award against the executive’s company. In a Wisconsin case dealing with whether Menasha Corporation should have to pay sales tax on computer software, state Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler opted not to recuse herself and ultimately cast the deciding vote and wrote the majority opinion overturning a lower court ruling that the company should pay the tax despite the fact that a party to the case - Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce - spent $2 million getting her elected.

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A recent commentary by the Democracy Campaign’s director spells out how collisions at the intersection of election campaigning and judicial independence are increasingly inevitable and will almost certainly create wreckage of one form or another in this year’s Supreme Court election. And he suggests a way to make the intersection safe again. Actually, two ways.

For more on what you can do to help make these changes a reality, go to impartialjustice.org.

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As we’ve previously reported, two major campaign reforms strongly supported by the Democracy Campaign - the Impartial Justice bill and legislation requiring full disclosure of special interest electioneering - were introduced in the Senate as SB 40 and SB 43, respectively. Now companion bills have been introduced in the Assembly for both measures. The Impartial Justice bill has been introduced as AB 65 and the electioneering disclosure bill has been introduced as AB 63.

Both bills have been referred to the Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee. Please take a few minutes to contact the chairman of the committee, Representative Jeff Smith of Eau Claire, to urge him to promptly hold public hearings and then votes on AB 65 and AB 63. And also let your Assembly representative know how you feel about these reforms.

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If newspapers go the way of the dinosaur, will our society then be more vulnerable to political corruption? An article in The New Republic makes the case that the answer is yes.

This is unquestionably one of the great challenges facing our democracy.