A bill will be considered by the Alabama Legislature in the regular session that if passed, will limit contributions to candidates in Alabama judicial races. The bill, pre-filed by state Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, will be considered in the regular session that started this month. The proposed legislation comes after last year’s tremendously expensive race for the single state Supreme Court seat on the ballot. Republican Greg Shaw defeated Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur in a close race where the candidates spent at least $4 million. But that amount – even though large – doesn’t include amounts spent by political parties and out-of-state shadow groups.
Rep. England’s bill would limit contributions in court races from individuals or political action committees to $500 per candidate. England, the son of former Supreme Court Justice John England, introduced similar legislation in the last regular session. That bill was approved by the House Constitution and Elections Committee, but died without coming up for a vote in the full House.
Language in the proposed legislation says the large amount of money in judicial races creates “the potential for corruption and, as important, the appearance of corruption.” It has been reported that the American Bar Association has been critical of the spending in judicial races in the state. Mark White, president of the Alabama Bar Association, says that the motivation behind this legislation is “absolutely correct.” Mark told the Associated Press that the real problem candidates had during the last election was “the amount of money and the tactics used by third parties.” He is absolutely correct in that assessment.
Tommy Wells, who is the current president of the American Bar Association and a very good Defense lawyer from Birmingham, wrote an excellent op-ed piece recently that appeared in the Birmingham News on the need for reforming the way judges are elected in Alabama. Incidentally, the News doesn’t believe the England bill goes far enough even though it believes it’s a step in the right direction. Here’s what that paper had to say in a recent editorial:
For starters, why set limits only on judicial races? If limits are good enough for candidates running for judge, they are good enough for candidates running for Governor, or state senator, or Attorney General, or any other elected office. England’s limit of $500 is a little low in this day and time when campaigns rely on expensive ad buys. Federal spending limits – for example, $2,300 for individuals to give candidates each election – seem more reasonable.
Force all groups trying to influence an election or referendum to report spending. The Shaw-Paseur contest was filled with attacks and counterattacks, some of them fueled (and funded) by groups that are not required to report who gives them money. At least one group, the conservative, Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom, dumped more than $1 million into ads supporting Shaw and attacking Paseur. Voters deserve to know who was behind those ads.
Ban money transfers. Another problem not limited to judicial races is the legal money laundering through PACs and political parties that hides from the public the true sources of campaign contributions. Every election cycle, millions of dollars from corporations, unions, other special-interest groups and individuals with deep pockets flow through PACs to make sure their source can’t be traced.
Allowing that much unregulated money into the political process only invites corruption. If voters can trace the source of every dollar spent on candidates’ campaigns, they at least know who is backing them and can make better-informed choices. And when things turn ugly the way they did in this year’s Supreme Court race, voters will know exactly whom to blame.
Hopefully, the England Bill will be made stronger and passed. If that happens, our judiciary will be the better for it and that will be good for all Alabamians. I urge the legislators to pass this important legislation.
Source: Associated Press
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