Endorsements & Contributions
Copyright (c) 2000 Burton Randall Hanson
Shortly after I filed as a candidate with the Secretary of State on July 18, I announced publicly that I would not seek and did not want "any group or political endorsements, including endorsements by groups of lawyers and/or organized political parties or elected officials." I also said that if I chose to allow any affirmative fundraising or soliciting of contributions on my behalf by a campaign committee, I would not want my independent campaign treasurer to "knowingly accept any contributions from law firms or, for that matter, individual lawyers (except perhaps friends who just happen to be lawyers)." A short time later I decided that I would refuse to accept any campaign contributions, even from friends. The advantage of this is that, if elected, I won't owe anything to any person or group or party. While I don't want any contributions or endorsements -- I, of course, do want votes of people, including lawyers, who have done their part as citizens and carefully considered and compared my qualifications with those of my opponent. I readily concede that my opponent is a talented, bright, honest, decent, hard-working person who, like me, has devoted her professional life to public service. Nothing I say here or elsewhere is intended to contradict that.
Why Am I Refusing Endorsements & Contributions?
While I currently do not support "public financing" of campaigns for judicial office, I note that the ABA Committee on Judicial Independence is forming a bipartisan commission to explore alternative methods of public financing of judicial elections. Alfred P. Carlton Jr., committee chair, states that "The need to rely on others for financial contributions raises the specter of undue influence and partisanship." (Source: Bench & Bar, August 2000, p. 8)
I am particularly troubled by the fact that traditionally judicial campaigns solicit and accept contributions "primarily from that small segment of the electorate with a special stake in the judicial system, i.e., lawyers, courthouse regulars, and members of business and professional groups that litigate frequently. When such persons do contribute, their contributions raise the natural concern that 'justice is for sale.'" (Source: Patrick M. McFadden, Electing Justice, American Judicature Society 1990 pp. 26-7)
I don't question my opponent's integrity or suggest that justice actually is "for sale." But it troubles me, and should trouble everyone, when, e.g., big law firms sponsor lunches and receptions during the campaign season for one or more of the sitting justices facing opposition. Lawyers who are invited are told that these receptions are "not fundraisers," which means only that fundraising is not discussed and does not take place during the lunch or reception. As the classic Seinfeld episode demonstrated, a "date" is still a "date" even if it isn't called a "date." The reality is that these lunches and receptions, while perhaps not technically "fundraisers" in the eyes of the members of the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, are part of the fundraising process. The so-called wall-of-separation between judicial candidates and contributions solicited by and made to independent campaign committees may not be an opaque wall in practice, particularly since the law requires public reporting of contributors. But at least there is a wall. But when a sitting judge facing opposition attends a "non-fundraiser" sponsored by a big law firm -- or a small one, for that matter -- the judge, wittingly or unwittingly, risks creating the perception or appearance that a cozy relationship exists between that firm and the judge, whether or not such a relationship actually exists.
In England, the traditional "Barrister's Gown" had a pocket in back. Solicitors would slip money in those pockets. The pockets were in back in order to maintain the fiction that the barristers couldn't see and didn't know who was slipping them money. But, of course, they knew the money was coming from the solicitors. If a sitting judge seeking election attends a luncheon or reception during the campaign season at a big downtown law firm to which all the firm attorneys are invited, and the topic of the judge's speech is judicial elections, it really doesn't matter that no soliciting of campaign contributions for the judge occurs until the judge leaves because the judge knows not only that his contributors will include lawyers but likely lawyers from that firm.
My opponent is a highly-visible, well-known public figure who first won elective office, to the legislature, a little over twenty years ago, when she was in her mid-twenties. Since Governor Carlson appointed her chief justice in 1998, when she was in her early-forties (click here), she has traveled around the Twin Cities area and the rest of Minnesota making hundreds of speeches/ appearances -- quite possibly more, on an average per-week basis, than any of her predecessors. Presumably partly because of her high public profile, one nonpartisan commentator stated, shortly after she filed for election, that she "appears to be in a relatively strong position going into this campaign." (Source: "Four High Court Seats Contested," Mark A. Cohen, Minnesota Lawyer August 24, 2000)
As an aside, while I concede there is room for reasonable people to disagree (and I will address the arguments pro and con later in the campaign), I personally believe justices, including the chief justice, should keep a lower public profile. An associate justice of the United States Supreme Court said recently of public speaking by appellate justices, "Every time we open our mouths, we come close to compromising what we do." In this regard, I note that the greatest of all appellate justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., apparently gave only 45 speeches in his nearly 50 years as an appellate judge, and many of them were just a few sentences long. (Source: Mark DeWolfe Howe, ed., The Occasional Speeches of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes 1962)
Be that as it may, the point is that my opponent is a highly-visible, well-known, popular public figure who presumably has great name recognition throughout the state, whereas I am "none of the above." In view of this and in view of my announced intention to reject all contributions, not just those from lawyers, I have urged my opponent to at least instruct her campaign treasurer to reject all contributions from lawyers. But I also have urged her to go one step further and follow my example of rejecting all contributions from all sources. In short, I have urged her to join me in setting an example for other candidates for judicial offices in future elections in this state, so that Minnesota judicial elections in turn will serve as a model for judicial elections in other states. It is clear, however (click here), that her campaign committee has been quite busy soliciting not only endorsements but contributions from lawyers and others.
How Can I Run An Effective Campaign Without Contributions?
It may sound impossible, but, if the voters do their job as citizens and if the press does its job, I think I can run an effective campaign without contributions. The late Justice Felix Frankfurter of the United States Supreme Court, stated that the most important office in a democracy is that of citizen. Justice Frankfurter elsewhere described education as a "joint adventure [of teacher and student] in understanding." Similarly, I believe, a campaign for judicial office -- or for any other office, for that matter -- should not be an occasion for candidates to engage in spending large sums of money, either other people's money or their own, but should be a joint adventure in learning of citizens, candidates, and press.
My campaign will not involve speechifying or grandstanding or sloganeering or photo-ops or glad-handing celebrity-style public appearances or "tours." (I don't suggest that my opponent's campaign will involve any of those things either or that there is no valid argument for that kind of campaigning.) I will merely do my best, within my self-imposed budget restraints, to explain directly to the voters, nonlawyers and lawyers alike, some of the fundamental differences I have with my opponent about the proper role of a chief justice as well as about the proper role of the state supreme court.
I have faith in the intelligence of the voters in Minnesota (who are "all above average") to make an intelligent, informed decision -- without the "benefit" of endorsements or of recommendations by this group or that group or of what I consider to be wasteful expenditure of money on advertising -- if I do my job as candidate, if the voters do their job as citizens, and if the press, including the legal press, does its job of providing sufficient and fair coverage of the positions of the candidates.
I originally set a maximum limit of $5,000 on campaign expenses. It now appears I will be able to run an effective campaign for less than $200, possibly less than $100. Elsewhere I call this "Thoreauvian Campaign Economics." As an example of low-budget, high-content campaigning that respects the intelligence of the voters, I personally created and am personally maintaining this web site at no cost whatever other than the $35 domain registration fee and the approximately $18 monthly web hosting fee during the course of the campaign. I am the author of all the position papers that appear or will appear here. My campaign button, shown above left, is a "virtual campaign button," that is, a computer-generated "button" that does not really exist in actual button form. In other words, it cost me nothing to create it. (If you want to wear one of my "buttons," you'll have to "do your part as citizen" and print this page, cut out the button image, and paste it on a button you already own.) :-)
The effect of my several decisions is that I don't need a campaign committee, don't need a third-person to act as treasurer, don't need to have a campaign committee to ask friends and lawyers for money, don't have to worry about creating the appearance of impropriety, don't have to worry about recusing when lawyer endorsers or donors appear before me if I'm elected, etc., etc. In short, I won't owe or even appear to owe anyone or any group or party anything, and I will be truly independent and nonpartisan.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Burton Randall Hanson - Prepared & published by candidate on his own behalf and at his own expense. Candidate may be reached by e-mail at BRH@CampaignWebSiteURL or by mail at address listed on Secretary of State's website.