My column this week explores the state of judicial elections in Arkansas, as epitomized by dirty money-fouled elections for seats on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Beginning next year, not a single member of the court can claim skirts clean of special interest money — or worse, anonymous special interest money. Even justices who’ve won without opposition in years past did so with significant infusions of clearly identifiable special interest money — nursing home cash for Rhonda Wood, for example (just yesterday the Supreme Court turned down yet another effort to get damaged nursing home patients out of unfair arbitration agreements); campaign debt repayment by class action lawyers (Karen Baker and Jo Hart, for example.)
Speaking of debt repayment: People are waiting for final campaign reports to see where the Supreme Court candidates wind up on that score, particularly Justice Courtney Goodson, who defeated by Judge Dan Kemp in the race for chief justice.
According to her last campaign report, filed Feb. 23, Goodson loaned her campaign $211,000 in February for her TV ad blitz, which brought her personal loans for the campaign to $466,000. She had raised only $267,504 in campaign contributions at that point and had spent $727,116, leaving a bit more than $6,000 on hand to pay down coming bills and loans.
On Feb. 23, Kemp was in better shape. He loaned his campaign $20,000. He’d raised $342,000 in contributions and still had $90,000 on hand.
Winning judges usually can find lawyers willing to help square accounts in the days after an election. Though she lost, Goodson remains on the Supreme Court, which might help her debt retirement, too.
In the other Supreme Court race, Circuit Judge Shawn Womack defeated Little Rock laywer Clark Mason. Much of the money spent in this race was spent by a Republican group that smeared Mason with TV ads suggesting he was a liberal or something worse, maybe an Obama supporter, not to mention a lawyer who earned fees representing injured people. Womack is a Republican former senator who carried the chamber of commerce “tort reform” agenda in the Senate. As yet, that Republican group hasn’t disclosed the source of its money.
Womack and his wife loaned $12,791 to his campaign. As of Feb. 23, he’d otherwise raised about $115,000 and spent $101,000, leaving him with about $19,000 on hand.
Mason on Feb. 23 had loaned his campaign $60,367. He’d raised $95,286 and spent $132,736 and had $22,827 on hand.
Goodson’s quest for repayment is complicated by the known wealth of her husband, John Goodson, a class action lawyer who’s contributed to just about every current and coming member of the court except, naturally, Dan Kemp.