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Monday, April 28, 2014

Corporate influence peddling doesn't end with legislators; money also works judges

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 7:06 AM

The Center for Public Integrity reports on a corporate-funded conference for state and federal judges on public pension reform underway in Charleston, S.C.

As state courts across the nation prepare to referee numerous public pension reform disputes, a gaggle of interested parties — from major corporations to the Koch brothers — will next week sponsor an expenses-paid conference on public pension reform for judges who may decide the cases’ fates.

Conference funders, which include ExxonMobil, Google and Wal-Mart, could benefit from efforts to slash benefits for public employees. Alternative approaches to shore up state budgets would likely require higher corporate taxes, fewer corporate subsidies and reduced government services, all of which would be bad for business.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is among other bankrollers. Reports say most of the speakers come from the corporate end of the ledger, though there's at least one union speaker. Host is the George Mason University’s Law & Economics Center, which regularly hosts business-friendly conferences for judges. It doesn't publicly list attendees, so it's not immediately known if Arkansas judges will be attending. But it wouldn't be unusual  (disclosure: my wife attended conferences at George Mason during her judicial tenure.) State judges who receive subsidized trips must disclose that on annual statements of financial interest. Records of state-financed trips to judicial conferences are public record. Federal judges must report free conference trips within 30 days after they are over.

The public pension "crisis," hasn't been defined as such in Arkansas yet, somewhat to my surprise. I fully expected to see it high on the legislative agenda of the new Republican legislative majority. Our public systems are sounder than many nationwide, but it has come at big and rising expense to the state. The defined benefit pension that provides maximum benefits at a fairly young age for those who enter the system in their early 20s is disappearing from private industry and increasingly targeted in the public sector, particularly thanks to exploding cost of continuing health benefits in some retirement plans. But the public systems have thousands of members and they vote — highway workers, teachers, state employees, state cops, police and firemen and more (including judges).

UPDATE: I checked with the court administrative office. No Arkansas state judges are at this particular conference.


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