At more than $9.5 million, Michigan topped the nation in spending on behalf of state Supreme Court candidates during the 2013-14 election, according to a report by nonpartisan groups that track the spiraling costs of judicial elections.
Rich Robinson, leader of the watchdog Michigan Campaign Finance Network, actually calculated spending on the Supreme Court races even higher — more than $10 million for the third straight election cycle — in his analysis released Monday. Unreported spending on television advertising alone, all supporting the Republican nominees, was $4.67 million, Robinson said.
Michigan also had the top self-funding candidate cited in the national report: Justice Richard Bernstein, a Democratic lawyer who spent $1.8 million of his own money to win one of three Michigan high court seats up for election last year.
The study was conducted by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The groups are concerned about the extent to which judges might be influenced by special interests giving money to their increasingly costly campaigns.
“(T)here is a risk that the concerns of ordinary people will take a back seat to the special interests and politicians who are trying to reshape courts to fit their agendas,” said lead author Scott Greytak in a statement released with the report, “Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14.”
Michigan’s eight Supreme Court candidates last year led the nation in fundraising at $4.98 million, according to the report. Outside spending on the three judicial races, it said, also was tops at $4.53 million.
Bernstein, the nation’s first blind state supreme court justice, was backed by his family’s heavily advertised Farmington Hills law firm. His personal campaign spending accounted for 37 percent of the Michigan total.
The national report said Michigan was one of just two states where campaign spending exceeded $3 million per supreme court seat and one of five states where it topped $1 million per seat.
More than $34.5 million was spent on state supreme court races in 19 states during the 2013-2014 cycle — much of it by outside groups, according to the report. Interest group spending on judicial races rose to a record 29 percent of total spending, or $10.1 million, it said.