Judicial Campaign Reforms – Part 5

I suggest we consider the rules on contributions and expenses.

Currently, judicial candidates and their committees must file campaign finance reports in May, June, and July, then skip to October, November, and January. Also, contributions in January through March of the following year are not reported until January of the following year.

I suggest the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct require the following:

a. The filing of campaign finance reports on a monthly basis. The pre-election reports should continue to be required, and any contribution or expense incurred from the pre-election report until election day should be reported on a real-time or daily basis.

b. The disclosure of ALL campaign contributions and expenses.

c. The candidate and the committee should be required to attach a copy of all invoices and contracts entered, including employment agreements, consulting agreements, rental agreements, etc. This would require the disclosure of every payment by the campaign vendor to any other person or entity, and a description of the goods provided or services performed.

d. The candidate and committee should be required to maintain a bank account and run all contributions and expenditures through the bank account. The bank statements should also be attached to the monthly reports.

I also believe that the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct should prohibit campaign contributions and expenses that are not reported prior to the election.

This problem is recognized by Canon 5(C)(2), which provides: “A candidate may, however, establish committees of responsible persons to conduct campaigns for the candidate through media advertisements, brochures, mailings, candidate forums and other means not prohibited by law. Such committees may solicit and accept reasonable campaign contributions, manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate’s campaign and obtain public statements of support for the candidacy.” The Comment adds that “Campaign committees established under Section 5C(2) should manage campaign finances responsibly, avoiding deficits that might necessitate post-election fund-raising, to the extent possible. . . .” (Emphasis added).

If you allow contributions after the election, contributors are likely to make contributions to the victor with the expectation of better treatment (i.e. partiality or bias) after the election has been decided. This could also be called “bring your gifts before the throne, or suffer” fund-raisers.

To ensure fair elections, the voters and public should know where the campaign contributions have come from before election day. The current system allows for a tremendous abuse of judicial power.

Next, I suggest that the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct should prohibit loans to judicial campaign committees.

The comment to Canon 5(C)(2) warns that “Campaign committees established under Section 5C(2) should manage campaign finances responsibly, avoiding deficits that might necessitate post-election fund-raising, to the extent possible. . . .” (Emphasis added). This comment is directly at odds with the practice of allowing loans to be repaid after the election.

No person or entity takes a loan out without having a plan for repayment. Neither a candidate nor his/her committee should be allowed to take out a loan that is to be repaid after the election. This is simply a way to hide contributors and mislead public.

I also believe that the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct should authorize the audit or examination of a candidate or committee’s campaign finances. It should also provide for the violations.

This function should be done by the Secretary of State’s office, with the hearing to be conducted by the Commission on Judicial Performance. There would need to be penalties in place to punish violators.

Finally, I suggest we revise the time period allowed for solicitation of contributions.

Judicial candidates may qualify to run for office on the first business day of the year in which the election is held. However, Canon 5(C)(2) provides that “A candidate’s committees shall not solicit or accept contributions and public support for the candidate’s campaign earlier than 60 days before the qualifying deadline or later than 120 days after the last election in which the candidate participates during the election year. . . .”

I suggest the following changes:

a. Start date. The Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct uses the “qualifying deadline” to determine when a candidate’s committee may begin to solicit contributions. Although the Canon does not include expenses, it implies that expenses may not be incurred until that date also. It only makes sense to let the candidate’s committee to solicit contributions as soon as the candidate officially qualifies for the election.

b. End date. This Canon allows the committee to continue solicitation of funds for “120 days after the last election,” which is through March of the following year. The comment to Canon 5(C)(2) provides that “Campaign committees established under Section 5C(2) should manage campaign finances responsibly, avoiding deficits that might necessitate post-election fund-raising, to the extent possible. . . .” As I have suggested earlier, the committee should not be allowed to solicit funds after the election. At a minimum, the period for solicitation should end before the judge’s term begins. Fund-raising activities should end by December 31st after the election.

c. Expenses. This Canon only applies to the committee’s attempt to “solicit or accept contributions and public support.” This Canon does not restrict campaign expenditures. A judge’s campaign committee may continue to expend campaign funds for years after the election. There should be a deadline for campaign related “expenditures”.

d. Final Report. The candidate and committee’s financial activities should be limited to the calendar year of the election and the final report should be required to file a final report within 30 days of the end of the year.

e. Retention. The Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct does not consider what a candidate’s committee can or must do with any funds remaining in the account. The Code should address whether funds may be retained for the next election or to whom the funds may be transferred.

If you have other suggestions, please feel free to comment here, email me or call me.

I also suggest that you send your thoughts and suggestion to the Supreme Court.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s