MSC campaign cash: A bit short of $20M

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor has a 10-to-1 campaign contribution advantage over challenger Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Diane Hathaway, according to the latest filings with the Secretary of State.

Taylor reported more than $1.5 million in contributions so far. Hathaway reported just under $150,000 for the period between Sept. 3 and Sept. 26.

These are not trivial sums, but both are a far cry from $20 million. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young speculated last fall that’s how much it might take to re-elect Taylor. And that’s how much Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said he would spend to defeat Taylor.

With less than a month before the election, it’s not realistic to expect either candidate will come close to raising $20 million in campaign contributions.

But will $20 million actually be spent on Taylor and Hathaway’s behalf?

Not likely, says Michigan Campaign Finance Network Executive Director Rich Robinson.

If that kind of money is spent on the supreme court contest, “it will come from soft-money issue ads. These can appear out of nowhere,” said Robinson.

Robinson said in the last election for governor, Jennifer Granholm and Dick Posthumus were spending $2 million per week in the closing weeks of the campaign, and “that was for total saturation of all the markets.”

If a similar “food fight” (Robinson’s phrase) were to erupt in this year’s MSC campaigns, there simply isn’t enough time left before election day to spend $20 million, according to Robinson.

Robinson said that MCFN recently “made the rounds” at television stations across the state.

“Taylor has ads cued up to go over the last three weeks of the campaign,” he said. The ads will begin to air Oct. 16 in the Detroit area, Lansing and Grand Rapids.

Robinson said that he didn’t see any Hathaway media buys when MCFN conducted its research.

Robinson said that the Judicial Confirmation Network has bought some time as well. There’s no telling what the JCN might run but its website currently features an attack ad against Barack Obama.


Poll could be sign of trouble for Taylor’s MSC re-election bid

A Marketing Resource Group-Inside Michigan Politics poll shows that if the Michigan Supreme Court election were held right now, it would be a tight race between Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Diane Hathaway, the Democratic candidate, and incumbent Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, the Republicans’ choice.

The MRG-IMP poll shows 15 percent of those surveyed would either vote for, or are leaning toward, Hathaway. Taylor polled 14 percent. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 4.1 percent. There’s a big chunk of undecided voters, 68 percent.

So, is it a meaningless pre-election poll?

Far from it, says MRG’s Director of Research Services Paul King and IMP’s Bill Ballenger.

King said he was not surprised by the large percentage of undecided voters at this stage of the game. What did surprise him is that Taylor didn’t get a bigger pop from the poll. King explained that the question asked those responding to choose between “Incumbent Justice Cliff Taylor” and “Diane Hathaway.” The incumbency designation should have translated into a better percentage for Taylor.

How come it didn’t?

Here’s the scene where maybe I should be eating a slice of humble pie. In past posts, here, here, here and here, I’ve been less than supportive of Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer’s handling of the MSC campaign.

But King speculated that Brewer’s shots at Taylor may be responsible for Taylor’s poorer-than-expected showing in the poll.

Ballenger echoed King’s speculation about Brewer’s campaign efforts. He added that Justice Elizabeth Weaver’s constant sniping at Taylor and the rest of the “majority of four” (Justices Maura Corrigan, Robert Young and Stephen Markman), has prompted “internecine squabbling,” which has “given the court a black eye.” This also presumably works to Taylor’s disadvantage, said Ballenger.

When Ballenger made his comments, he mentioned he was en route to Washington, D.C.

What’s going on in Washington, Bill?

“The secretary of the treasury has asked for my help.”

Ever the jokester, that Bill Ballenger.

Okay, so what’s Taylor’s next move?

“He’s got over a million in campaign funds. I suggest he start spending like a drunken sailor.”

Not so sure he was joking that time.

Dems nominate Hathaway for MSC

wins floor fight at state Democratic convention and ready to take on Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Diane M. Hathaway: wins floor fight at state Democratic convention and ready to take on Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor.

At its state convention in Lansing over the weekend, the Michigan Democratic Party nominated Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Diane Marie Hathaway as its candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court.

Despite a strong grassroots challenge from fellow Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas – she came within 300 votes according to an Associated Press report – Hathaway prevailed with the backing of several unions, the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, the Michigan Education Association, and an endorsement from the Michigan Association for Justice.

Hathaway took the expected swipes at the Michigan Republican Party and her November opponent, incumbent Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, the Republican nominee. From the Associated Press:

“I love the state of Michigan,” Hathaway told delegates. “I love her people and I love her environment. Our Republican-dominated Supreme Court is hurting you both.”

Hathaway and Taylor are seeking an eight-year term on the MSC.

Two for the show

With Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Diane Marie Hathaway’s announcement of her Michigan Supreme Court candidacy during a press conference call last Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party now has two high court candidates to choose from at its state convention this weekend.

Deborah Thomas, also a circuit judge in Wayne County, has been seeking the nomination for months.

One of them will emerge as the MDP’s nominee this weekend.

Hathaway came out swinging on Tuesday, calling Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor “a walking conflict of interest” who rules for insurance companies the bulk of the time, and, says Hathaway, will get millions of dollars in support from insurers and large corporations. Taylor has raised nearly $1.5 million so far for his re-election campaign.

The odds favor Hathaway for the nomination. She’s picked up key endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Association for Justice. Hathaway told reporters she was in the process of securing additional endorsements, prompting one of the newshounds to ask, “Who else do you need?”

Don’t count Thomas out, though. Her campaign web site is replete with criticism of Taylor’s and the Republican majority’s jurisprudence. She’s had plenty to say about why a Hathaway candidacy will fall flat. She’s planning a strong convention presence and told me earlier this afternoon that she’ll be there this weekend “with every last vote” from her supporters.

No matter which of the two MSC hopefuls gets the nomination, she will face the uphill battle of knocking off the incumbent Taylor, the Michigan Republican Party’s choice for the November ballot. Each has been on the short end of the electoral stick before. Hathaway lost a bid for the Court of Appeals in 2006. Thomas had an unsuccessful run for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2004.

Bill Ballenger, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, has remarked to me in the past that 95 percent of all incumbent judges in Michigan in the last 20 years have been re-elected.

Long odds for a challenger, no matter who gets the nod.

Convention floor fight brewing for MDP supreme court nomination?

Wayne Circuit Court Judge Diane Marie Hathaway told the Associated Press yesterday that she’s “strongly” considering a run for the Michigan Supreme Court and will announce her decision before the Michigan Democratic Party convention, which opens Sept. 5.

If she decides to seek the Democratic nomination, she could have a convention floor fight on her hands. Fellow Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas, who’s been campaigning for the nomination for quite some time, says she won’t back down.

According to a report in Michigan Information and Research’s Capitol Capsule, Thomas said that state Democratic leadership would be making a mistake by nominating Hathaway, who has received organized labor’s endorsement.

Thomas actually defeated incumbent Justice Stephen Markman in Wayne and Washtenaw counties in 2004 and wiped out the other Republican-nominated candidate, Appellate Judge Brian Zahra, by a 3-to-1 ratio in Wayne County. In 2006, when Hathaway tried to unseat Zahra, who was running as an incumbent, she lost to Zahra in Wayne County.

“If Judge Hathaway cannot defeat a Republican incumbent in Wayne County, she cannot win the Michigan Supreme Court race,” Thomas said in a statement. “If Judge Hathaway cannot defeat a Republican in the five counties encompassed by the Court of Appeals race, there is no reason to believe she can defeat Justice Cliff Taylor in any of those counties.”

MIRS reported that Thomas’ campaign manager, Gigi Thomas, is mobilizing supporters and getting them ready for a floor vote.

Meanwhile, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor breezed to the state Republican Party nomination at the party convention in Novi over the weekend.

In one supporter’s view, Taylor has deity-like status. A hand-lettered sign proclaimed, “In Cliff We Trust.”