U.S. Supreme Court approves limits on judicial fund-raising | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court approves limits on judicial fund-raising

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:03 AM

The United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that states can ban judicial candidates from soliciting campaign contributions. Arkansas is among 30 states that have such bans.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined four liberal justices in the decision, which differentiated judicial candidates from other politicians.

The ruling came from a court that has given broad 1st Amendment protection to anything associated with money, including spending by corporations.

But not judges.

The case came from Florida, where a judge signed a campaign letter.

The practical effect of the ruling appears limited to me.

In Arkansas, for example, judicial candidates have fund-raising committees that nominally solicit money without knowledge of the candidate. But the fund-raising events are typically well-known and campaign reports are public and readily available for inspection on-line. Traditionally, lawyers are the major source of campaign cash.

Don't kid yourself that judges don't take note of who gives them money. Remember when Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, her early campaign money dominated by nursing home contributions, endeavored to explain how her long ties with the "medical community" explained her contributions from health care interests? She actually got a single $500 contribution from a doctor and $76,000 of the first $132,000 she reported came from nursing homes. I guess she read her committee's reports at some point. Wood undoubtedly benefited from her association with former Sen. Gilbert Baker, who bundled contributions for a number of judicial candidates and opened a spigot from nursing home owner Michael Morton, particularly, who gave tens of thousands through corporate shells to judicial candidates. He did a lot of phoning with judicial candidate Mike Maggio on such matters, apparently. Maggio has pleaded guilty to taking a bribe in the form of campaign contributions to reduce the verdict in a nursingt home case. That charge relates to Morton and Baker, though neither was named in the indictment or charged. Wonder what other phone numbers appear on Baker's cell phone record?

Apart from the porous nature of Arkansas's ban — I've been told of judges who directly solicited lawyers during cases — there's also the dark money issue. Secret independent groups have become major factors in judicial races, including in Arkansas. A shadowy group poured hundreds of thousands into a Supreme Court race last year to help elect Justice Robin Wynne.

In short, I'm not ready to make much of today's Supreme Court ruling in terms of encouraging more ethical conduct of judicial races.

Good government groups hailed the decision. And to the extent it prohibits an open door to overt solicitations, I guess there is that.

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