The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today got around to running through the basics of the recent flood stealth PAC ads attempting to blow up the race for Arkansas Supreme Court between Robin Wynne and Tim Cullen by making Cullen out to be a defender of child porn (he’s merely a defense lawyer who represented an offender once). The slimy secret group’s history — absent disclosure it’s unlikely to provide — leaves the inescapable conclusion that Wynne is the business lobby favorite in this race and it will stop at nothing to defeat Cullen.
Why would I conclude this? Some of it, as I’ve noted before, is a significant chunk of nursing home money in Wynne’s campaign kitty. But he enjoys at least some trial lawyer support, too. The big thing is the huge and dishonest ad buy of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, a group that won’t even front a human being to defend its slimy tactics. This group has a history and it appears to be a whole lot more about advancing the chamber of commerce than anything else.
For example, there’s this from Think Progress. It indeed shows this Virginia-based group funded by mystery money likes to use a “soft on crime” theme. But it’s applied to settle scores with candidates who might not be friendly enough to “tort reform,” or efforts to limit damage lawsuits against businesses.
In 2008, it accused Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz of “voting for drug dealers and baby killers.” The LEAA spent more on ads in that election “than all the other candidates and independent groups put together.” A state ethics committee ruled the ads were false and violated state ethics laws. After the LEAA ran similar attack ads against a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, it admitted violating Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws.
In January, Think Progress noted:
… the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court rejected a request by a conservative “dark money” group to keep its donors secret. The lawsuit alleges that the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) illegally “coordinated” its ads with Attorney General Greg Abbott’s (R) 2002 campaign. If evidence emerges that the LEAA coordinated with Abbott’s campaign, then the millions of dollars it spent on ads could be considered illegal in-kind campaign contributions. That could spell trouble for Abbott’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, which currently has a huge fundraising advantage over his leading opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D).
The LEAA’s ads also described Abbott’s Democratic opponent as a lawyer who “made millions suing doctors, hospitals, and small businesses.” One might wonder why the LEAA—a group which bills itself as an advocate for police officers and crime victims—would be worried about Texas voters electing candidates who sue businesses. In 2004, one Texas newspaper noted that the LEAA had received $4.5 million from unknown sources and that some local “prosecutors hypothesize that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with ties to the Texas Association of Business, is the alliance’s mystery benefactor.” Justice Diaz has noted similar allegations that the LEAA was a front group for the Chamber in Mississippi.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent millions to elect judges who will rule in favor of corporate defendants and against plaintiffs in tort cases. This effort is bearing fruit, as the courts which have seen the most campaign cash are more likely to rule for corporate defendants.
I remain undecided in this race. I put a lot of stock in lawyers and several whose opinion I respect are split on this race, perhaps a slight tilt toward Wynne, who has a solid resume. Wynne has said he had no connection with the slimy ads helping him. I have no reason to disbelieve him. But he hasn’t distanced himself from the core message, which — even if you don’t believe corporate money is behind it — is a strong disincentive to the notion that criminal suspects are entitled to a vigorous defense Until there’s accountability about LEAA money and motives (don’t hold your breath), I think the safest bet is to think hard about whether you want to support a candidate backed by such a group.
UPDATE: Cullen’s campaign says the secret campaign has made another major ad buy, reaching perhaps $400,000 in total. The Wynne campaign, on the other hand, has purchased no more than $3,000 in advertising. If Wynne is not coordinating with the secret attack group, he hardly needs to. They are carrying the ball for him.