Tuesday, February 9, 2016

In Supreme Court race, $336,000 in dark money advertising fuels attack on Goodson's 'insider' connections

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 10:43 AM

And here it is. Max noted last week that a "dark money" group from DC, the Judicial Crisis Network, was purchasing TV ads in Arkansas that concerned the topic of "Gifts and campaign contributions accepted by Arkansas Associate Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson.”

Goodson is running for chief justice of the state Supreme Court; she's opposed by Mountain View Circuit Judge Dan Kemp. (H/t to the Brennan Center for making this ad available online.)

The ad, which is now airing in TV markets across the state, attacks Goodson for accepting campaign contributions from trial lawyer groups and an Italian yacht trip from a corporate contributor, something the Times has written about before. It also cites recent reporting in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette looking into Goodson's finances. "The Democrat-Gazette calls Courtney Goodson 'the ultimate insider,'" a male voice ominously intones. "Italian getaways, enriching trial lawyers — call Courtney Goodson and tell her to fight for Arkansans, not trial lawyers."

Left unsaid thus far is the fact that Goodson's husband, John Goodson, is one of the state's most prominent class action attorneys and a judicial campaign fundraising heavyweight. But with weeks before the March 1 judicial elections, it would be no surprise if that topic surfaces in a later ad.

Justice at Stake, a campaign finance watchdog group that first noted the ad buys in the Arkansas Supreme Court race last week, initially said the Judicial Crisis Network had purchased about $77,000 worth of ads. Now, disclosures filed with the Federal Communications Commission show a much larger purchase: Around $336,000 in all.

The JCN is a right-wing 501(c)4 based in Washington, D.C. Such "social welfare organizations" are shells set up to allow wealthy donors to contribute to favored political causes anonymously. Dark money groups like the JCN are nothing more than faceless bank accounts that insert themselves into elections around the country to promote an ideological agenda. To give a sense of the JCN's politics, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas runs the organization. The JCN went after Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in the 2014 Republican primary for being insufficiently conservative on gun issues, and it's previously gotten involved in state supreme court races in Michigan and North Carolina.

Last week, Max noted the irony in all this. A dark money group, its donors shrouded by a loophole protecting supposed "social welfare" nonprofits, is spending boatloads of cash to launch attack ads criticizing Goodson's history of dubious financial backing.

Goodson's campaign released a statement on the ads. 

Dan Kemp and his political allies are sinking over a half million dollars into a coordinated effort to silence me. His Washington insiders — with secret donors and a secret agenda — are running these ads. If Dan Kemp lacks the integrity to stop them, its a sign to every secret interest group in the country that Arkansas’ courts are for sale. Outside groups are not welcome in this race, and Dan Kemp should stop using dark money to buy a seat on our Supreme Court.

She's not the insider — Kemp is the insider! She's not putting up the courts for sale — he's putting up the courts for sale!

Kemp's campaign, meanwhile, denied having any connection with the ads, of course. That's because dark money groups can't coordinate with the candidates they support without running afoul of election law. Talk Business has this unapologetic statement from his campaign:

First, we have been focused on running our own race and running our own ads that are up on TV today. We are holding meet-and-greets all across this state raising money, meeting voters, and building support. Second, we’ve never met with anyone from the Judicial Crisis Network. The response is a soundbite that one of Ms. Goodson’s many political consultants and supporters who reside outside of the state of Arkansas have told her to say in order to distract voters from the truth. If Ms. Goodson has a problem with the facts of the ad, she needs to take that up with the Judicial Crisis Network.

Note that familiar, ridiculous language at the end of Goodson ad: "Call Courtney Goodson and tell her blah blah blah." By the twisted rules of campaign finance, that means this ad isn't engaging in "express advocacy" (that is, telling voters who to support in the Supreme Court race). No advocacy here — it's only educating the public.

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