UPDATE: Protest planned on 'dark money' in judicial races | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

UPDATE: Protest planned on 'dark money' in judicial races

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 11:38 AM

The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association announces a news conference tomorrow to express concern about "dark money" — money from an anonymous sources — being spent in Arkansas judicial races. Retired Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck will participate and all Supreme Court candidates are invited.

This presumably is a reaction, in the main, to the major ad buys by a Virgnia group of unknown membership and financial support that has made a huge TV ad buy across Arkansas slamming Tim Cullen, who's oppossing Appeals Court Judge Robin Wynne in a race for an open Supreme Court seat. There's been talk of other outside money figuring in judicial races this month, but if it's out there it hasn't yet been as prominent as spending by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

UPDATE: The group is interested broadly in dark money. An anonymous group is also spending a huge sum to help elect David Sterling, the Republican candidate for attorney general. A variety of groups with secretive funding are participating in races for legislature and other lesser offices.

ATLA, whose members generally represent plaintiffs in lawsuits, said a diverse group of  "concerned citizens, various community organizations and the legal community" will gather at the Capitol at noon Thursday. The Arkansas Citizens First Congress is among the sponsoring groups.

The announcement said: 

So-called “dark money” is being used by out-of-state special interest groups to funnel money into Arkansas judicial races, damaging the sanctity of the independent judiciary by giving the appearance that justice can be bought in Arkansas.

Justice can also be bought wit "light" money, of course. In years past, bankers organized to beat a Supreme Court justice who issued a usury decision they didn't like, to name one. Nursing home money has become a prominent factor in races. Also trial lawyer money.

I don't think we want to elect judges, really. But then I heard today of a movement afoot to change Court of Appeals races, now elected, to appointment. This would be possible under the constitutional judicial article by vote of the legislature. It would be a sure money-raiser for gubernatorial candidates, because the governor would be at the top of the appointment process.

Speaking of judicial elections: For another day a hot rumor about plans afoot to do something about the law that forces judges to retire after they turn 70 or else lose retirement benefits. (Disclosure: I have no dog in this hunt. My wife is neither 70 nor planning to UNretire.)

UPDATE: Blue Hog says Cullen will attend. No word yet from Wynne. He also offers some speculative analysis that the dark money this year is about testing the efficacy of such spending with an eye toward 2016 a bigger prize in court seats, chief justice.

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