Money in judicial races | Arkansas Blog

Money in judicial races

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We've had a couple of lively discussions so far (here and also here) on campaign financing in the race for state Supreme Court between Courtney Henry and Judge John Fogleman.

Attention was drawn to medical/insurance/nursing home contributions in Henry's early reporting, particularly a $70,000 or so bundle of nursing home contributions.

Questions about that have prompted a response to supporters from Courtney Henry's husband, Mark. He notes his father is a Fayetteville physician, one reason for the support of other doctors. He doesn't directly address the nursing home money. He notes that many trial lawyers "who routinely sue doctors" have contributed to Fogleman, but discounts that as a negative. He said he's represented both sides in lawsuits and Henry's contributors similarly represent both plaintiff and defense bar. He discusses, too, the general concerns about the influence of money on judicial races. The letter follows:

LETTER FROM MARK HENRY

Dear XXXXX,

Thank you for your email.  Questions about a judge's donors place all judicial candidates in a tough position because judges are not allowed to know who gave them money.  However, the economic reality is that all judicial candidates must buy advertising to get their message to the voters.  In a statewide race,  the cost to reach voters is much higher than for local judges.  I would expect that Senator Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Halter will be spending a combined $8M before May.  With that said, the dollar amounts that the judicial races are spending to be elected is only a small fraction of that amount.


The Judicial Ethics Rule says that, "judicial candidates should, as much as possible, not be aware of those who have contributed to the campaign".

Courtney has stayed out of the fundraising process as much as possible with the exception of attending fundraisers on her behalf.  Her most recent report shows more than 700 people have contributed to her campaign.   I'd like to believe that people give in support of her because they like what they hear. Most donations appear to be less than $150.  I am aware of recent attention  to the fact that there are several health care industry donors to her race.  Her report reveals that we also have a substantial number of family, lawyers, friends, clients, and members of our church donating to the election.


I'm inclined to believe the reason that Courtney is receiving medical industry support is because virtually all members of my family are physicians, tracing all the way back to my great-grandfather in Helena, Arkansas.  My own father, Morriss, was president of the Arkansas Medical Society many years ago.  Both of my sibilings are physicians, as are their spouses.  I'm proud that my father used his medical background to implement laws to help establish organ donor programs across Arkansas while he was serving Northwest Arkansas in the legislature.  Most recently, he worked to help establish the new medical school facilities in Fayetteville. 


Another reason being discussed is that her opponent is touting his strong financial backing by the plaintiff's trial lawyers bar, who routinely sue doctors.  I'm not inclined to agree that this is a valid reason because I have represented both plaintiffs and defendants in the past.  Our contribution report reveals that she receives financial support from attorneys on both sides of the issues.


According to a recent article written by Justice Brown of the Arkansas Supreme Court, Justice Brown agrees that Arkansas has not been plagued by the onslaught of outside interests trying to buy elections.  It has happened in Alabama and Mississippi, where supreme court races cost more than $5M.  The suggestion in those races was that outside corporate interests were fighting against the trial lawyers.  In those other states, the concern was approximately $3M in oil-industry money.  That amount of third-party money is shocking to many who are calling for judicial election reform.


Our budget for this statewide race is comparably small.  In order to win this statewide race, our campaign began work early.  We built grassroots support.  The never-done-before petition drive for the Arkansas Supreme Court garnered 14,118 signatures.   It gave our supporters an opportunity to save the campaign money and become part of a movement that believes it was good to vote FOR somebody rather than against a candidate.


We've also contributed a substantial amount to the campaign ourselves, which is in keeping with most other candidates for elective office.  To date, and over this past year, we have invested $115,000 to our campaign, which is a very large sum for us.  It appears that candidates in the companion race have invested far more; Judge Karen Baker has invested $235,000 to her campaign, Judge Tim Fox has invested $135,000 to his campaign.  I mean no disrespect to either of them by mentioning their names - they're both very interested in winning, and I am staying out of that race.


I am confident that this election cycle will prompt a debate about whether Arkansas should look to public funding of judicial elections.  I'm not inclined to believe that the legislature would agree to that when there are unpaved streets and underpaid policemen.  I do agree, however, that it is an increasing disconnect, if not outright burden upon our public servants to require them to put a quarter-million dollars of their own money into the race.  That's becoming the norm, since Attorney General McDaniel invested almost a half-million of his own money into his race and Lt. Gov. Halter invested a large sum as well in his bid for Lt. Governor.


Arkansas is unique in that we still allow citizens and the common man to elect our state supreme court justices.  Courtney strongly believes in this process because it keeps judges in touch with the lives of Arkansans. Her opinions have been online throughout this campaign, and I have not heard a criticism that she routinely sides with either corporations or plaintiffs.

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