Veteran Analyst Ornstein Decries 'Auctioning of the Judicial System'

citizens-unitedTracing deep-pocketed special interest and partisan spending in state supreme court elections this year, veteran political analyst Norm Ornstein condemns what he labels dramatic changes to judicial elections in the post-Citizens United era.

At The Atlantic, Ornstein’s commentary has the headline, “Courting Corruption: The Auctioning of the Judicial System,” and a sub-headline, “Don’t believe the Citizens United pollyannas. Watching money flooding into elections for judges’ seat shows how dangerous unregulated campaigns can be.”

Ornstein focuses on an explosion of spending — especially from outside groups — in the North Carolina Supreme Court primary (see Gavel Grab) and Tennessee Supreme Court retention election (see Gavel Grab) in building an argument that  the “worst of the new world of campaign finance post-Citizens United” is emerging in judicial elections.

Ornstein writes that “the concerted efforts by activist James Bopp to go state by state and remove all restrictions on how judicial elections are run—making them just like political campaigns—combined with the effective elimination of boundaries on funding and the blockage of disclosure, have dramatically changed judicial elections.” (more…)

Senate Closer to Debating Measure to Reverse 'Citizens United'

The Senate voted on Monday to proceed to debate a proposed constitutional amendment that would reverse the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling. A Republican filibuster is expected soon, and the proposal is not likely to pass the Senate this session, Huffington Post reported.

While the proposal has almost universal support of Democrats and opposition from Republicans, a majority of Americans from both parties “support the rationale offered by amendment proponents as a reason to amend the Constitution,” according to a separate Huffington Post article. (more…)

Retired Judge Laments 'Worst Government That Money Can Buy'

jim-nelsonThe problem of money in politics has grown so big that it seems to be “on steroids” now, laments retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson in an outspoken Helena Independent Record op-ed.

Justice Nelson takes direct aim at a line of U.S. Supreme Court cases beginning with Citizens United, saying the problem of big money overwhelming actual voters has become so great that what once was unimaginable is almost possible.

“So, what’s next?” he writes. “Will corporations and special interest PACs eventually get the right to actually vote? Why not? They’re already funding the worst government that money can buy.” (more…)

Campaign Finance Measures Advance in California, Massachusetts

campaign_financeCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown said he will allow citizens to vote this fall on an advisory measure asking Congress to revise the U.S. Constitution and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United was “wrongly decided and grossly underestimated the corrupting influence of unchecked money on our democratic institutions,” the governor said in a message to legislators, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, he said the advisory measure would have no legal effect and he would not sign it.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the state House has passed legislation to require greater public disclosure by super PACs, and the Senate will consider it. (more…)

Senate Committee Votes to Curb Political Spending by Corporations

Despite an uphill fight ahead, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 on Thursday to advance a proposed constitutional amendment that would permit Congress and the states to bar corporations from spending to influence elections.

The “heated debate at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday underscores the intensity of the fight over the growing role of unlimited money in elections,” USA Today reported.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and the committee’s chairman, said Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance regulation have “twisted the meaning of the First Amendment” and “opened the floodgates to billionaires.” (more…)

JAS to Senate: Consider Impact on Courts of 'Citizens United'

Cash-gavel-soldPublic trust in fair and impartial courts “is undermined when special interest groups pour large sums of money into judicial elections,” Justice at Stake wrote leaders of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The JAS letter was accepted as part of the record for the committee’s hearing on a constitutional amendment in response to Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance and money in politics. The letter said the impact of Citizens United on state judicial elections was an “often overlooked area” that JAS wanted to spotlight.

“Over the past ten years, we have witnessed judicial elections become increasingly expensive and alarmingly politicized,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg wrote in the letter. “Millions of dollars have been poured into judicial elections, mostly for state high courts, but increasingly for state appellate and trial courts as well.” (more…)

Ex-Justice Stevens Takes Issue With Court on Campaign Finance Law

Retired-justice-Stevens-talks-ethics-Thomas-HMH8L4O-x-largeRetired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens displayed a flare of anger over the court’s campaign finance jurisprudence when he was interviewed recently by reporter Adam Liptak of the New York Times. 

According to Liptak, “He said the court had made a disastrous wrong turn in its recent string of campaign finance rulings. ‘The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate,’ he said. ‘It’s really wrong.’”

The retired justice has written a book entitled “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.” One of his proposed amendments would deal with the court’s Citizens United ruling by altering the First Amendment landscape and allowing Congress and states to impose “reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.” (more…)

Controversy and Headlines Continue After McCutcheon Ruling

Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC this past Wednesday, the decision has continued to make headlines.  On Fox News’s website, a blog discussed efforts by Democrats to tie the billionaire conservative Koch brothers to the result of the decision.  The blog mentioned that after the court’s 5-4 ruling had been announced, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York mused “I don’t think the Koch brothers lack for free speech.”

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate noted that the Citizens United ruling from five years ago had an 80 percent disapproval rate from the general public, and wondered if Chief Justice Roberts “doesn’t believe, or doesn’t care, that money corrupts politics.”  Meanwhile, the Anchorage Daily News asks if the decision will energize voters or do the opposite.  Describing American voters as “already angry at a distant, dysfunctional political system,” the piece calls into question how political leanings might affect reactions to the ruling.

Wisconsin Communities Join National Call to Overturn Citizens United

Numerous Wisconsin communities, including Gov. Scott Walker’s hometown and other Republican strongholds, have passed referendums opposing Citizens United.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reports that 41 Wisconsin communities have called for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases that opened the floodgates to unlimited election spending.

“It puts good people in both parties in a difficult situation. I always thought that businesses did not have a significant voice and that their voices should be heard in the public square,” retiring Republican State Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) said during a recent public forum. “Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think businesses would buy the public square.”

Nationwide, 16 states and over 500 municipalities have passed resolutions urging Congress to amend the constitution to limit money’s influence over politics.

Wednesday’s McCutcheon v. FEC ruling will allow more money into politics, enabling a small number of super-rich donors to give as much as $3.6 million to candidates and parties in a single election cycle.

JAS: Citizens United Anniversary 'One to Regret'

On Tuesday’s fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United campaign finance ruling, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said the decision had “poured gasoline on the already burning fire of judicial election spending, further eroding public confidence in our courts.”

“In the first full election cycle since Citizens United, independent spending by special interest groups in judicial races surged by more than 50 percent over the previous record,” he said in a statement. “The deluge of special interest and political campaign cash signals a race to the bottom in judicial elections, and they are becoming barely distinguishable from mudslinging political contests for executive or legislative offices.

“Given Citizens United and subsequent court rulings, we’re on our way to creating a Wild West for elections generally. In judicial elections, this trend is of paramount concern because a relatively modest amount of money can tip the scales of justice.”

Justice at Stake called the anniversary one to regret. Its statement advocated an array of reforms in the wake of Citizens United.