There’s an above-average chance that, by now, you’ve heard about the rally at the Capitol tomorrow (Thursday, May 15) in protest of the influx of dark money into judicial races in Arkansas. To the extent you haven’t heard, the details are below, and I strongly encourage anyone who lives in the area and cares about things like judicial accountability and transparency to attend.
Currently, former Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck and Brad Hendricks are planning to speak, with additional speakers still being lined up. All current Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Judges have been invited (with an open invitation to speak about the issue if they want). Supreme Court candidate Tim Cullen is going to attend, though his opponent, Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne — who, full disclosure, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance from one dark-money PAC — has not said whether he will be present.
If you are still looking at this and wondering why you should care, I offer two reasons:
1. This dark money makes it impossible to see who donated to a judicial candidate. This is important because, under Arkansas Rules of Judicial Conduct 2.11, the relative size of a contribution to a judge’s candidacy is relevant in determining whether a judge should recuse from a case where a campaign donor is a party. If you cannot see who gave money, you cannot weigh the relative size of the contribution. Anyone who might ever find him- or herself in front of the Arkansas Supreme Court (which, honestly, could be pretty much anyone) should be outraged by the idea that a judge could have deep financial ties to the other side of your case and you would never know it.
2. People have wondered aloud why this relatively low-profile race between Cullen and Wynne is the target of over $400,000 in dark money. The answer, I believe, is to test the efficacy of the spending and (if successful) send a message to judicial candidates in 2016. Why 2016? Because two seats, one of which is the Chief Justice’s, will be up for grabs without an incumbent. Justices Hannah and Danielson will (almost certainly) depart, and the longest-serving Justice on the court at that point will be Courtney Goodson. [foot]As an aside, when I started working at the Court in 2009, Justice Jim Gunter was last in seniority and Justice Goodson had not yet been elected. The turnover from 2010 to present has been nothing short of astounding.[/foot] If this PAC can demonstrate that they are able to control the outcome of an election in 2014 — without ever telling anyone who they actually are — they will be in a position to impact two more seats (one hugely important) in 2016, effectively giving them three votes as needed without the slightest concern that we will actually know when they are getting their three votes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joey McCutchen – email@example.com – 479-783-0036
Citizens Rally Against Special Interest “Dark Money” Tomorrow at State Capitol
Little Rock – A diverse group of concerned citizens, various community organizations and the legal community will gather on the front steps of the Arkansas State Capitol tomorrow (Thursday) at noon to voice concerns about the recent flood of anonymous “dark money” seeping into Arkansas judicial races. More details below.
Annabelle Imber Tuck, former Arkansas Supreme Court justice; Supreme Court candidates (invited), lawmakers
Arkansas State Capitol – Front Steps. IN CASE OF RAIN, Old Supreme Court Room.
Thursday, May 15, 2014 – 12:00 NOON
So-called “dark money” is being used by out-of-state special interest groups to funnel money into Arkansas judicial races, damaging the sanctity of the independent judiciary by giving the appearance that justice can be bought in Arkansas.