Saturday, March 17, 2012

CBA condemns PAC money in judicial races

"Personal and political PACs (Political Action Committees) have no place in judicial elections and their recent entry in the Illinois Supreme Court election further erodes public confidence in the independence of our judiciary," according to Chicago Bar Association President Robert A. Clifford.

In a statement released by the CBA yesterday, Clifford stated, "There is good reason why the Constitution separates the Judicial from the Executive and Legislative Branches of our government. Public confidence in the independence of our court system is paramount and PACs by their very nature are politically motivated and agenda-specific which tend to undermine that confidence."

Mr. Clifford's comments were general, of course, but there seems to have been a couple of specific triggers for his statement. Both involve Personal PAC, which bills itself as "a bi-partisan political action committee dedicated to preserving abortion rights in Illinois by electing pro-choice candidates to state and local office." On Tuesday, Personal PAC won an order from U.S. Senior District Judge Marvin Aspen setting aside provisions of the new Illinois campaign finance law which would have imposed limits on its "independent expenditures" on behalf a candidate, that is, expenditures that 'are not coordinated with' that candidate. (You can read the complete order here.)

Almost simultaneously, as Capitol Fax reported Wednesday, one of Personal PAC's "independent expenditures" began hitting mailboxes.

Here are the front and back of the piece:

Here's the inside:

The right-hand page of the mailer folds open to reveal this:

Clifford said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Caperton v. Massey and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission have "opened a 'dark door' for the 39 states that elect judges." Clifford likened the developing case law to "Lewis Carroll’s proverbial never ending spiraling rabbit hole the consequences of which will inevitably make our judicial elections more negative and further blur the lines of judicial independence."

In the wake of these Supreme Court decisions, Clifford said, the American Bar Association is urging states to enact more stringent rules for judicial recusal and disclosure requirements for spending on judicial races both for direct campaign contributions and indirect support.

In his statement, Clifford specifically called on judicial candidates to reject the use of personal and political agenda-specific PACs in their campaigns.

Contacted for a reaction, Brendan O'Sullivan, speaking for the Theis campaign, told FWIW in an email, "Since Personal PAC is running an Independent Expenditure, we have had no coordination with them, and first saw the mailers on the Capitol Fax blog." The campaign had no comment on Clifford's call to reject PAC money in judicial campaigns.

However, according to a March 16 article by Jeff Coen, Justice Theis told the Chicago Tribune that "she did seek the endorsement of the group, but was careful to tell the organization she would not comment on any issue that could wind up before the court, such as parental notification of abortion."

At this point, Personal PAC may be the only political action committee actively participating in the primary process. In an email interview with FWIW, Ed Murnane, President of the Illinois Civil Justice League, expressed general agreement with Mr. Clifford's position. "I'm not sure I agree on [Clifford's] 'dark door' theory but we definitely need to make some changes" in the judicial election process. Murnane confirmed that JUSTPAC, the ICJL's political action committee "has not put any money into any judicial campaigns this year." He added, however, that ICJL and JUSTPAC "have not ruled out supporting candidates in the General Election."

More about ICJL's suggestions for the reform of Illinois judicial elections tomorrow.


Allie said...

There's some kind of political PAC sending mailers in opposition to Beatriz Santiago - we've gotten 3 of them. They all just focus on her rating from the CBA. So strange.

Allie said...
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Jack Leyhane said...

Allie... are these from a PAC or from someone else's campaign? If from a PAC, which one? The mailers should have language on it that identifies the person or organization responsible for the mailer.

Albert said...

I'd like to know too, Allie--can you tell us who's sending them? The pro-choice PAC sent exactly three fliers on the Supreme Court contest; maybe this is the same kind of thing.

Unknown said...

I can confirm that a PAC that formed on March 1, called the Judicial Integrity Project sent out three negative mailers and 3 negative robo calls just targeting me which focused on my negative ratings with the CBA.