“Tell God the truth but give the judge money,” is a Russian proverb, according to Poetic Justice, a compilation of quotes and sayings about the legal profession edited by Jonathan and Andrew Roth.
The proverb unabashedly alludes to the unseemly topic of bribing judges. Thankfully, instances of judges actually throwing cases for a fistful of cash are infrequent.
But what if the proverb were rewritten slightly?
“Tell God the truth but give the judge[‘s campaign finance committee] money.”
Now, there’s something that goes on all the time, with the full blessing of various campaign finance laws.
Sometimes the giving is extremely generous, in the form of so-called “issue advocacy” advertising. The real givers can remain anonymous, which also occurs with the full blessing of various campaign finance laws.
For that situation, there’s a Danish proverb collected in Poetic Justice that seems appropriate: “Justice oft leans to the side where your purse hangs.”
Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network had an opinion piece in yesterday’s Lansing State Journal.
Robinson gave a quick synopsis of the Caperton v. Massey case, recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is whether a litigant’s due process rights were violated when a judge did not recuse himself from the case because the other litigant spent $3 million to help get the judge elected. The Michigan Lawyer‘s take on the subject, click here.
Robinson asked his readers:
What does this mean to Michiganders? Plenty.
In 2008, we witnessed a $7.3 million Michigan Supreme Court campaign. Over half the money in that campaign – $3.8 million – paid for television “issue” ads that were never disclosed in any campaign finance report. That is nothing new.
Since 2000, Michigan Supreme Court candidate committees have raised and spent $13.1 million for 10 seats on the court, while the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the state Democratic and Republican Parties have spent $14.3 million for television ads that sought to define the candidates’ character, qualifications and suitability for office, while coyly avoiding any direct mention of voting for or against a candidate.
In Michigan, that means the groups that bought the ads don’t have to tell us who gave them the money. That means that an interest group that spent $1 million to elect a justice doesn’t have to identify itself in the public record. And when its favored justice votes in a case worth millions of dollars to the interest group, its opponent in the case may not even know its due process right to an unbiased hearing has been gravely compromised.
In other words, we may have had our own Caperton affairs, flying below the radar.
Robinson concludes that it’s just great that the Michigan Supreme Court is considering new recusal standards for itself. But he also wants the Legislature to become involved.
There’s a great opportunity to become informed about the topic on March 18 at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The Cooley Law School’s Law Review Annual Symposium is “Supreme Court Election Campaigns: A Threat to Fair and Impartial Courts.”
More information here and here.