Here’s more from the push by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests to elect Barbara Webb, wife of Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb, to an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court. She’s challenging Circuit Judge Chip Welch in March.
The chamber apparently sees buying a Supreme Court seat as cheaper than passing a constitutional amendment to make it hard to sue for damages (tort reform).
I wrote earlier this week that Webb’s first report showed maximum $2,800 contributions from the State Chamber PAC and its doppelganger, Associated Industries of Arkansas.
I wrote then that the Chamber wants tort reform, and then anything else that helps corporate profits. Here’s proof, with my highlights.
A lobbyist passed along a copy of this text message from the chamber’s chief lobbyist, Kenneth Hall, with the invitation shown above:
Subject: Fwd: From Kenny Hall: Barbara Webb for Supreme Court Event
Business Lobbyists, As you know, Barbara Webb is seeking an open Supreme Court seat. Her opponent is former Trial Lawyer Association President, Chip Welch. This election, between a business conservative and a trial lawyer, is essentially a tort reform battle that’s a much cheaper option than trying to get a tort reform ballot initiative passed. We believe active participation in this race, plus the two Supreme Court seats coming up in 2022, is the best approach to ensure the election of conservative Supreme Court Justices who will follow the law and not legislate from the bench. Attached is an invitation to a fundraiser for Webb’s campaign on Wednesday, January 15th from 4:30-6 p.m. in the Bob Lamb Conference Room at the State Chamber. All three of the State Chamber PACs are serving as hosts, as well as several other individuals/PACs from the business community, and we are working to continue to add hosts to the invitation. Hosts give or raise $2k. Can we add you or your PAC to the invitation as a host? We will push it out to a much broader audience at the start of the new year. Thanks for all you do for so many! Kenny”
Pretty naked. You may remember it’s the chamber’s desire to neuter the state constitutional right for redress of damages in court. In the past, the Supreme Court has resisted legislative efforts to restrain the court’s constitutional power to set court rules (and thus limit damage lawsuits.) It has also run into difficulties qualifying tort reform amendments for the ballot, partly by overloading the last proposal with a Christmas tree of business benefits. So, why not buy a court majority? They have the money for the long game.
I tried to reach Hall to see if he’d dispute my characterization of the pitch, but he’d left the office for the holidays. I’ve sent an e-mail and if I hear back will pass his response along. UPDATE: He referred me to chamber director Randy Zook. I asked:
Cheaper than a tort reform amendment? Does that mean Supreme Court seats are for sale? Does the chamber have a commitment from this candidate?
No, no and no.
I’ve also sent questions to Webb about whether she’s committed on tort reform issues and how she feels about Hall’s messaging.
UPDATE: Webb responded Saturday morning to my question on whether she had made commitments on the issue:
I have not — and would not — to make any such commitment to anyone is inappropriate. It should be clear to all that my candidacy is not for sale and the people of Arkansas can rest assured that I will be a fair and independent voice for all.
The messaging seems clear enough: If you want Republican and corporate justice, Kenny Hall has a candidate for you. Admittedly, this might be viewed as a plus by many voters. Until they have, say, a botched surgery or get damaged by a bad corporate actor, and need a lawyer.
This money must be disclosed, unlike the dark money expected from the Republican State Leadership Committee’s judicial PAC.
Looking ahead to 2022 and another tsunami of special interest money? The terms of Justices Karen Baker and Robin Wynne expire that year. I don’t know their plans, but the chamber won’t be rushing to help them with re-election. They voted with the majority in the 6-1 decision that tossed the chamber’s last proposal to make it hard to sue. Justice Jo Hart, who’s retiring and whose seat is being sought by Webb and Welch, wrote the opinion. Only former Republican Sen. Shawn Womack dissented.