01 November 2011

Report: Up For Auction, Who Is Buying Up Our State Judges?

From Denny: Author Charles Hall, of the report "Justice At Stake, Interest Groups Dominate Judicial-Election Spending" and Landon Rowland, Chairman Emeritus of the Janus Capital Group discuss America's bought government and the rapid pace to buy up our legal system on the Dylan Ratigan Show.

Our politics are rigged and now our legal system, via state court elections, is getting bought up as well by money interests.  The federal system of judges have to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate but the state and county level is far easier to purchase - with no oversight to detect it or enforce if judges have been compromised.

The danger is that money interests are frantically busy right now buying up state and county judges for influence and arm twisting so they can win in court.  It's the Koch Brothers, and other special interest groups, who figured out that the majority of the law in America is decided on the smaller legal levels and they seek to corrupt that system.

The current buying up judges across the nation is beyond the usual political influence.  Supporters give money to Democrat or Republican judges expecting a degree of influence.  But what is happening right now - at a rapid pace - goes far beyond that centuries old practice.

In the past 10 years, spending on state high court elections has more than doubled to the tune of $206.9 million when it was only $83 million.  Here's the real rub:  40 percent of that $207 million comes from only a handful of special interest groups, just 10 of them, in addition to the political parties.

Landon Rowland of the Janus Group sees this buying up of and intimidation of judges as a huge risk to our economy in addition to the eroding of public trust:  "In our system we depend upon the third branch of government to ensure that there is equal application of the rule of law to all persons. all controversies.  We don't count on the executive branch.  We don't count on the legislative branch.  We count on judges. We count on their dispassionate but professional view of controversy."

"It really is a matter for guaranteeing the free enterprise system as much as the individual rights of our citizens.  Both business and citizens feel that judges can be compromised by this huge amount of money that is being spent in these campaigns."

"In view of the Citizens United case, our concern is that (spending) is likely to grow.  Who is going to monitor how this money comes into the process?  How are we going to guarantee that our courts are free of the kind of influence which huge amounts of cash are likely to impose upon the system?"

"We will be reverting to the deviant capitalism that we see in third world countries, in countries that have fallen away from the socialist ideal and they have fallen into a kind of banditry in which those with the money induce decisions, produce interference with free enterprise, and, thus, in the end, frustrate the kind of the economy that this nation, and nations around the world, strive for.  It is a serious challenge that we (in America) would regress to that point."

From Justice At Stake Communications Director, author of this report, Charles Hall:  "Since the 1990's money has exploded in these state court elections... Many judges literally owe their jobs to a very small number of groups with very deep pockets."

Check out an October poll gauging the public trust in state courts and judges from 20/20 Insight, LLC:

* none at all - 13 percent
* just a little - 29 percent
* some -        46 percent
* great deal - 10 percent

Another October poll by the same group:  Impact of Campaign Donations on Judges' Decisions

* great deal - 50 percent
* some -        33 percent
* just a little - 13 percent
* not at all -     3 percent

Charles Hall offers up suggestion for resolution of this legal corruption:

* learn just how widespread and toxic is this practice, drilling down to your own local level
* reform on the state level like public financing that help get judges out of the business to have to "dial for dollars"
* instead of elections perhaps go to an appointment system
* here is what the Missouri Plan is considering:
   1) experts screen judicial candidates
   2) governor appoints from this pool
   3) judges stand for periodic elections - about every 8 to 10 years

Poll after poll shows that 3 out of 4 Americans believe that justice is for sale.
Who are the dominant groups who are known as the Super Spenders buying up judges across America in the past two years?

* Law Enforcement Alliance of America (another pal of the NRA)
* Republican Governors Association
* states' Chamber of Commerce
* Michigan Republican Party
* Partnership For Ohio's Future (state Chamber of Commerce)
* Illinois Democratic Party
* Pennsylvania Democratic Party
* Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association
* Business Council of Alabama
* Illinois Civil Justice League (JustPac)
* National Organization For Marriage

Other regular Super Spenders in every election:
* the American Family Association
* the Family Research Council
* the Campaign for Working Families
* Citizens United (against unions)

What kind of groups contributed the most (in descending order)? (rounded off)

Lawyers/lobbyists -           $8.5 million
Business -                         $6.2 million
Political party -                 $3.4 million
Anonymous -                    $2.8 million
Organized labor -              $261,000
Candidate contributions -  $1.8 million
Other -                             $1.1 million
Idealogy/single issue -        $382,000
Unitemized contributions - $250,000

What is "other" listed as contributors?  (You know I sure wondered.) This group includes: retired persons, civil servants, local or municipal elected officials, tribal governments, nonprofits and military persons.
What these groups gave to buy up judges on the state level in the 2009 - 2010 elections?  Over $27 million.

Justice At Stake report: Interest Groups Dominate Spending in Judicial Elections

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