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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mississippi Churning, Part XIII

In the most recent post in our "Mississippi Churning" series, we noted the state has made a serious effort at campaign-finance reform in the wake of the Paul Minor prosecution.

And how has this effort turned out? Well, it's a story that is rich in irony.

Remember that it was a Republican-led justice department that initiated an investigation and charged that Minor, an attorney, had bribed three Mississippi judges in exchange for favorable rulings. Minor and the two attorneys who were convicted along with him just happened to be Democratic supporters (in a state with nonpartisan judicial elections).

As we noted in earlier posts, the loan guarantees that Minor helped arrange for the judges were allowed by Mississippi law at the time in question. They still are allowed, within certain limits.

But with the government alleging that such lawful arrangements were "bribes," Mississippians evidently decided to change their laws. Current law caps donations to judicial candidates at $5,000 by a single donor.

State officials quickly saw the limit was of little use. Political high rollers-including major corporations and wealthy trial lawyers--could sidestep the limit by making donations to special tax-exempt political action committees, known as "527s." Those fund-raising entities then sent money directly to state candidates.

In 2004, Secretary of State Eric Clark and Attorney General Jim Hood tried to close this loophole in Mississippi. But guess who vetoed the campaign-finance reform bill? None other than Republican governor Haley Barbour. He objected because the bill limited corporate donations to political action committees. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, August 28, 2005.)

To quote that great Alabamian Gomer Pyle: "Shazam!" A Republican supports corporate interests!

Does that remind anyone of Alabama Republican governor Bob Riley, who touts ethics at one moment, and vetoes an ethics bill the next?

Let's review some of the ground we've covered. The loan guarantees that Minor helped arrange were allowed by Mississippi law. So his financial contributions, in and of themselves, were not bribes at all. Under the law, they only become bribes if they have a corrupt purpose--to improperly influence the rulings of judges.

And our research--and the 12 posts leading up to this one--have shown there was no corrupt purpose because the judges' rulings in the underlying lawsuits were correctly decided. In other words, Minor's clients received favorable rulings not because of any "bribes" but because the facts and the law indicated that they should receive favorable rulings.

So with this as background, and knowing of Barber's veto on campaign-finance reform, let's ponder this question: Are Republicans really interested in limiting contributions to judicial candidates?

Answer: They are when Democrats make them.

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