Money and our Supreme Court
In June of 2007, the Northern Express included an article by Rich Robinson of the Michgian Campaign Finance Network, a non-partisan watchdog group, that tracked financial contributions to the conservative majority of the Michigan Supreme Court. Their findings help to explain why the Court, nearly always on a 4 to 3 vote, has "reformed" so many existing rulings for the benefit of the insurance industry and the Chamber of Commerce. Leading a national trend, Robinson claims that these conservative interests have created the appearance of purchasing a court composed to their satisfaction.
According to Robinson, 16 million dollars was spent on three Michigan Supreme Court seats during the 2000 election. Less than half of that total was subject to disclosure under Michigan's loosely regulating campaign finance laws. For example, tracing expenditures through the files of Michigan broadcasters and other public records, Robinson noted that in the year 2000, several corporations, including WalMart, Home Depot and Daimler-Chrysler each contributed 1 million dollars to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, which then spent 10 million dollars on state Supreme Court races in Michigan and four other states.
The U.S. Chamber gave 3 million dollars to the Michigan Chamber to directly subsidize Michigan television advertising critical of consumer-oriented Supreme Court judicial candidates. Not surprisingly, soon after the Chamber-supported candidates won, they overturned two Daimler-Chrysler verdicts that saved the corporation more than 50 million dollars in damages. As Robinson notes, without examining the merits of either of these cases, if one is inclined to see the world in this light, it appears that Daimler-Chrysler obtained an excellent return on its million-dollar investment. There is at least an appearance of impropriety, the stain of which should be removed from our judicial elections.
Nor is this problem an isolated situation. The same thing continues to happen on a consistent basis in Michigan and many other states. Since 2000, Robinson notes that the Michigan Chamber has spent an additional 6 million dollars on advertising complimenting the performance of its pet "reformers". According to Robinson, a review of broadcasters' public records shows that the Chamber has spent more on each of these judicial elections than the candidates, themselves, have spent.
Robinson and Northern Express make a persuasive argument for public-financing of Michigan judicial races and for full disclosure of all expenditures to influence judicial voting. Our courts should not be on the market for purchase by the highest, secret bidder; and there should not be even the appearance that they are. When one combines this kind of one-sided expenditure [and this doesn't tally the contributions made by insurers to the same candidates] with equally one-sided anti-consumer rulings, you have a recipe for the loss of public trust in the judiciary. In the long run, that doesn't serve the interests of anyone in our society.