With Halloween tomorrow, there’s a lot out there to be scared of. And here’s one more thing. A great article out this week in Mother Jones, discusses something we’ve been talking about, and scared of, for years… money and influence in judicial elections. See here, and some of our earlier coverage here, and here. And, importantly, the role that "tort reform" and the highly partisan industry lobby group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have played in judicial elections for years.
With Election Day less than a week away, we’re happy to see people worried about big businesses influence over these elections. Mother Jones notes, “the Chamber spent $10 million on judicial races in 2000 alone. It pumped $4.4 million into Ohio’s Supreme Court election – the largest expenditure from a single source on a court race in U.S. history” after the Court struck down the state's Draconian tort reform law. And they didn’t stop there. It poured “tens of millions into races in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Wisconsin” over the next few years, pouring money into races to oust judges that don’t agree with, and support, their pro-business, pro-tort “reform,” anti-consumer agenda.
Consider the example of State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler. In 2008, the first African American Supreme Court Justice in Wisconsin was also the first sitting justice to lose his seat on that court in 40 years:
Butler's opponent, Michael Gableman, had been showered with campaign donations from business leaders, who were keenly aware of Butler's role in two decisions. One was a 4-3 ruling to strike down a $350,000 limit on so-called pain-and-suffering damages in malpractice suits. The other held that if an individual harmed by lead paint exposure couldn't identify the producer, then multiple paint companies could be held liable under a legal theory known as “risk contribution.”
Butler was targeted because he ruled in favor of consumers.
This is nothing new. In fact, according to a 2013 study from the American Constitution Society and Emory University, points out that unlike other groups that contribute to state judicial candidates, business groups are focused solely on this issue:
Business groups usually have an unambiguous agenda in most state races – to help pro business, pro-tort reform judges get elected. Indeed, tort reform has become the primary issue in most state judicial races.
So the Chamber is flooding money into these elections to keep victims from holding corporations accountable for their misconduct and, unfortunately, their influence is dominating one area of these campaigns. So far, this election cycle, state Supreme Court candidates, political parties, and special interest groups have spent $9.1 million on TV ads. The gross majority of that special interest money is coming from big business. “In 2006 business groups were responsible for over 90 percent of the television advertising paid for by interest groups.” And their dominance over television ads is only increasing.
Their efforts are working:
It is estimated that the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $100 million between 2000 and 2003 on judicial campaigns. Most of these efforts were successful. Between 2000 and 2004, 36 of the 40 judges whom the Chamber supported were elected.
And, worse still, once these judges get elected, they do exactly what big business wants and side with Corporate America over average Americans…
The more campaign contributions from business interests the justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants when they appear before them in court. Notably, the analysis reveals that a justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time.
That’s a lot scarier than Halloween!