For Immediate Release
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
James Sample, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–992–8648
Jesse Rutledge, Justice at Stake, 202–588–9454
Two Years After Record-Setting Supreme Court Campaign, Illinois Appellate Court Campaign Record Smashed
National Court Wars Move Down to Appeals Court Campaign
Washington, DC A rural Illinois appeals court campaign is drawing in much of the big money and special interest activity that smashed state Supreme Court fundraising records in 2004, prompting national watchdog groups to warn that the new politics of judicial elections may be poised to spread deeper into Americas state appellate courts. According to pre-election campaign finance reports filed in recent days, the two candidates have raised nearly $2 million to date, setting a state record for appellate court fundraising. That number is expected to increase sharply in the two weeks leading up to the November 7 election.
Much of the money is being donated from the states political parties and rival interests. Since filing, the Republican incumbent Steve McGlynn has raised over $1.2 million, while challenger Bruce Stewart, a Democrat, has raised over $600,000.
This level of fundraising for an appeals court campaign is virtually unheard of in American judicial politics, said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Washington-based Justice at Stake. The only winners are special interests who want judges to be accountable to them.
The American Justice Partnership recently donated $275,000 to McGlynn, and the state GOP $575,000 to finance an advertising campaign. On the other side, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the largest public employee and health care workers union, recently contributed $10,000 to Stewarts campaign. Stewart has also received a number of sizeable checks from trial lawyers.
Thus far special interests have not taken to the airwaves to support or oppose the appeals court candidates themselves, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent more than $350,000 to air an ad condemning lawsuit abuse. The ad features several small business owners stating that Illinois has earned a reputation as a bad place to do business because anyone can file a lawsuit against a small business without justification.
The Chambers ad does not directly support or oppose any candidate, said James Sample, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, but it is clear that the ad is intended to influence this Novembers elections by focusing the electorate on the battle over tort liability.
In the 2004 election, then-Circuit Judge Karmeier received more than $350,000 in contributions from employees, lawyers, and others with direct connections to State Farm Automobile Insurance, Inc. He20collected another $1 million from larger groups of which State Farm was a member or to which it contributed. A case against State Farm was pending before the Illinois Supreme Court during the campaign, and when Justice Karmeier took his seat on the high court, he refused to recuse himself from the case. He then voted to overturn a verdict of several hundred million dollars against the company.
The continuing pattern of big money pouring into judicial campaigns will only further undermine public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the Illinois courts, added Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.