“Non-partisan” judicial races… my ass

The Tacoma News Tribune editorial board has come out strongly in favor of HB 1226, a bill that would extend the current cap on individual campaign contributions to “non-partisan” races, including judicial campaigns. (“Good for the politicians, good for the judiciary.”) This is a common sense proposal, but Republicans are opposing it because they have recently used this glaring loophole to their advantage.

At the center of the controversy is Jim Johnson, who won a November election to the state’s highest court with the help of $232,000 in contributions from the GOP-allied Building Industry Association of Washington. If Johnson had been running for another statewide race


  1. 1

    swatter spews:

    It is about time someone realized the inequity. In our local City races, one individual gave $30,000 plus to one candidate. The funny thing is, “the guy lost”.

    And in our County races there was about a $1200 limit per person or so. And except for the pac that ran a hit piece and the executive got away scot-free from the “sham” pac. BTW, that successful executive was a Dem by trade (but he had bipartisan support, too).

  2. 2

    Erik spews:

    This is a bill to bring continuity to all of the politcal races.

    Anyone who is in opposition to this bill needs to explain why judicial races should be exempt from the spending limits that all of the other political positions have.

    In some counties, some contributors have supplied nearly all of the money for a judicial race.

  3. 3

    JCH spews:

    Perhaps it is “on topic” in this tread to discuss the crazy “9th Circuit” packed full of idiot liberals.

  4. 4

    Chuck spews:

    Frankly I have more problems with more than that, the non partisan part is too restrictive. There are more things I want to know about a canidate than where he went to college and that he is a good father (or she is a good mother). The rules of a non partisan race prevent that.

  5. 5

    RDC spews:

    Unless one is adamantly opposed, on philosophical grounds, to any limit on individual campaign contributions (the “money is speech” (IMO)fallacy), why would anyone oppose this? I’ll be very surprised if you get much traffic on this one, Goldy.

    I didn’t vote for him, but I am hopeful that donning the robes will temper Justice Johnson’s views, and that he will turn out to be a bigger disappointment to the BIAW than Justice Warren was to President Eisenhower. Stranger things have happened.

    I can’t sign off without giving Chuck a kudo. I don’t know the rules of non-partisan races, but it is often frustrating trying to pick the best candidate. I’ve often ended up relying on endorsements, but feeling uneasy about doing so.

  6. 6

    Goldy spews:

    JCH @3,

    No, it is not on-topic, but thanks for asking. We’re talking about Washington judicial elections. Federal judges are appointed.

  7. 7

    Goldy spews:

    Chuck @4, RDC @5,

    I believe I have blogged in the past that I think “non-partisan” races are just plain stupid, and it’s kind of silly that judicial candidates aren’t really allowed to properly campaign. How can we choose a judicial candidate if we can’t learn anything useful about him?

    But I’ll take it one step further: I don’t think we should elect judges at all. I think judges should be appointed, and then face a retention vote every few years (it’s like an automatic recall.) That way, judges would be, uh, judged, on the basis of their performance, not by being pitted against another candidate.

  8. 8

    smoke spews:

    Is there REALLY such thing as a NON partisan candidate?

    Tell me that BOTH parties don’t want THEIR candidate in office and I’ve got a bridge I can sell you cheap.

  9. 9

    swatter spews:

    nonpartisan races- you don’t get to know the candidate.

    partisan races- you ….., er fill in the blanks, will you please.

    We had a governor’s race (partisan) and I still don’t know why Rossi should be governor, except he was a good father and is soft-spoken. And Gregoire is all about “girl power” or something like that.

    So, again, tell me the reasons why partisan races are better.

  10. 10

    RDC spews:

    Goldy @ 7

    Yes, I read an article recently in one of the national papers, coming at it from the other side. The article was bemoaning lifetime appointments, and suggested instead what you are suggesting, a referendum on the judge’s performance every 10 years or so.

    But let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good (sorry for the cliche, but it fits). This bill should pass through the legislature quicker than Boeing said goodbye to Harry. Does my having that sentiment mean it’s DOA?

  11. 11

    Liking it spews:

    I think Goldy hit it right-on. But I do have a question.

    What is to stop unlimited spending on “independent” expenditures? Why couldn’t all this money just be funneled through PAC’s like 527’s? Certainly I would think that everyone here agrees that 527’s like the Swift-boat veterans didn’t help raise the dialogue of politics. Does this mean that judicial races will be defined not by the message of individual campaigns but by the 527 groups?

    As I see it, this bill doesn’t stop the flow of $$.

  12. 12

    Don spews:

    Nutcase @ 3

    I’m not convinced that appointing crazy right-wing judges will solve the problem you mentioned.

  13. 13

    Don spews:

    swatter @ 9

    Should we conclude, then, that you failed to educate yourself about Rossi’s and Gregoire’s policy positions?

  14. 14

    Mark spews:

    Don @ 12

    As long as you accept Nutcase’s assertion that the 9th is crazy, I’ll go along with your sentiments, too.

  15. 15

    RDC spews:

    Liking it @ 11

    Good point, but I don’t know if that would be a problem here. The 527s exploited a loophole in the Federal law for elections to federal office. I don’t recall 527-type groups being a problem here in partisan races (except the stealth campaign against Deborah Senn by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that ironically probably kept Mark Sidran, IMO a better candidate, from prevailing in the primary). Perhaps our campaign finance laws already have addressed this. Someone out there likely knows.

  16. 16

    Don spews:

    Mark @ 14

    I’m more inclined to call the 9th “Californicated” than “crazy” but I suppose they mean approximately the same thing.

  17. 17

    Liking it spews:

    RDC @ 15

    You are correct about the applicability of federal law. However, state law allows the equivilent of 527’s by PAC’s that lawfully may spend unlimited amounts of $$ on “independent expenditures.” This bill will only redirect the flow of $$ into PAC’s, but not stop the flow.

    I think Goldy is right. In order to really make a difference (ie – stop the $$) you need appointed judges. Although I would differ with Goldy on the need and constitutionality of a “retention vote.” The real problem with getting appointed judges is that it requires a constitutional amendment. Amendments need a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and approval by the people. So you run into a problem of trying to convince the people that they should give up their right to elect judges, and that the governor is better trusted to handle the appointment of judges. I doubt that will happen in our lifetime.

    What we have left is a system that never truly stops the flood of money, but give the illusion of a fix by limiting only direct contributions. Go check out the PDC website and look at all the PAC’s that are registered. Then you will understand the futility of these bills, and how easy it is to get around the spirit of the law.

  18. 18

    swatter spews:

    What policies? I am not sure I believed much coming out of the mouths of the mouthpieces.

    I am more of “what have you done with your life up to now” and “can I trust you to do a good job”? The marketing people skew everything about candidates.

    Take for example, the presidential nominees. They go to their extremes to get the nominatiion and then move to the center to get elected by the general populaton. So, exactly what do these people stand for?

    Don, so you get my drift?

  19. 19

    Goldy spews:

    Liking It @11,

    There are no limits on “independent expenditures”, but at least we’d be able to call it what it is. And it does make it difficult to use such money for many typical campaign functions. For example, an independent committee couldn’t really print and put up yard signs, because that would have to be reported as an in-kind contribution, and would be subject to the regular limits.

    Mostly, independent expenditures consist of negative advertising against the opponent.

  20. 20

    marks spews:

    Liking it @17

    “I think Goldy is right. In order to really make a difference (ie – stop the $$) you need appointed judges. Although I would differ with Goldy on the need and constitutionality of a “retention vote.” “

    I would refer to the plight of former California Chief Justice Rose Byrd. Appointed by then Governor Jerry Brown, she was atrocious in her partisan activism. California law says that state Supreme Court appointees must be on the ballot every twelve years (I may be wrong, it could be six but I am too tired after a long day of work to look it up).

    After her abysmal term(s), the voters mercifully turned her out of office. The specifics of her getting tossed centered on her opposition to the death penalty, but when we have a zealot justice on an issue like abortion or the death penalty or whatever, I would want the opportunity to toss a justice out for being an extremist and not following the law. If a justice can’t divorce oneself from their personal biases, they are not qualified to be a judge who is expected to follow the law as written.

    I prefer both a first term appointment followed by voter-based judicial review at some amount of time later (six years?)… If a justice is removed, the Governor would appoint a new one.

  21. 21

    RDC spews:

    Liking It @ 17

    Thanks for the info. Are you suggesting that the existence of PACs means that a law limiting individual contributions would be worse than no law at all; i.e., worse than futile? Or just futile? My instincts lead me to think if you can’t solve the entire problem, at least solve some portion of it, and then move on to the rest. Biting off limiting the PACs is probably too much to hope for.

  22. 22

    ranger06 spews:


    You can print and use yard signs in an independent expenditure, it is a different reporting requirement, but can be done. The sponsor ID must appear in the disclaimer in no less than a 10% font size differential than the biggest print on the sign.


  23. 23

    Chee spews:

    PDC laws state what constitutes a “political” committee. Further as has been stated here the PDC has rules for forms of advertising of any kind by a single individual, the candidate or a committee with the exemption spelled out for small objects like pens, labels ect. PDC rules are strict and any violations reported are sure to be followed through on. PDC does not like negative campaigning and their policy is geared for Fair Campaigns and also is their slogan. I think all candidates should be capped re expenditures. Elections can won by the most money spent on Tv blubs ect. That is not how it should be. I agree with you on judges Goldy.

  24. 24

    Chee spews:

    MAny times we do not have to do the rid of judges. I have seen the bar association get rid of judges nicely. They call them in on internal complaints the public never sees the documents and what do you imagine happens next. The judge decides to resign ( with some hard help) and returns to private practice; ends up being a traveling municipal city attorney serving several small cities at one time. A lot of resignations are sophisticated rids.

  25. 25

    Chuck spews:

    Dont like the idea of an appointed judge myself, additionally I think that judges should have to take senality tests on a regular basis, as one case in particular, Judge “Hutch” Hutchins in Eatonville was too senile to hold judgeship. The man was nuts, simply ask anyone who went before him. No we need to elect as many of our people as possible. As a matter of fact, I think if Pierce County went back to an elected sheriff, much of the graft might leave the department.