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Tag: Kevin Elliker

When judges take money: Campaign contributions in judicial elections

by Kevin Elliker

On March 29, 2012, the William & Mary Election Law Society and Election Law Program held a symposium entitled, “More Money, More Problems: Money in Judicial Elections” in Williamsburg, Virginia. The afternoon symposium featured two panels of distinguished speakers moderated by SCOTUSblog reporter Lyle Denniston.

The first panel focused on the financial issues surrounding judicial elections, specifically whether campaign contributions work differently in judicial elections than in legislative elections and if campaign donations result in some form of civic harm even when they do not reach the level of outright bribery. The panelists included: James Bopp, election mega-lawyer and litigator of Citizens United; Justice Thomas R. Phillips, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas; and former Federal Elections Commission Chairman Bradley Smith, who currently serves as Josiah H. Blackmore/Shirley M. Nault Professor of Law at Capital University Law School and Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, an organization he founded. Continue reading

Update: Nordstrom out, ELEC in, Lyon still unelected (for now)

by Kevin Elliker

Charles Dudley Warner wrote, “Politics make strange bedfellows.” When a candidate who violated campaign finance laws is joined in a lawsuit by the agency in charge of enforcing against such violations, politics must be involved.

In November, I wrote about the debacle in the Republican primary election for freeholder in Morris County, New Jersey.  At that time, a Superior Court judge overturned 23-year-old Hank Lyon’s 6-vote victory over incumbent Margaret Nordstrom in the June primary election. Judge Weisenbeck found that Lyon violated New Jersey campaign finance laws when he failed to submit certain donations and expenditures to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), and voided the primary election in favor of a party convention to choose the nominee. The convention selected Nordstrom, who went on to victory in the November general election before Lyon’s appeal could be heard.

Just prior to the election, the Appellate Division granted ELEC permission to intervene as a respondent to the lawsuit. (Non-lawyers: this means the court allowed ELEC to join the pre-existing lawsuit as a party that can claim an interest in the case which will not undermine the original suit). ELEC argued that Judge Weisenbeck overstepped his jurisdiction and that the agency should resolve election disputes such as this. Continue reading

Young New Jersey Republican learns campaign finance the hard way, or: “Dad, can I have $16,000?”

by Kevin Elliker

When my older brother graduated from college, he moved back in with my parents, got a job as a lifeguard and spent the summer looking for full-time work. Hank Lyon went a different route. After graduating from Holy Cross in 2010, and while working for his parents’ various businesses, he decided to run for the office of freeholder in Morris County, New Jersey. Things didn’t quite work out as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Lyon entered the field as a candidate in the June 7 Republican primary election. His only competition: Margaret Nordstrom, the 12-year incumbent, thrice chosen as the freeholder board’s directors, and a former mayor of Washington Township. In putting together his campaign, Lyon made his father campaign treasurer and became a partner in his parents’ LLC. His father claimed that by making Hank a partner in the LLC, Hank could convey to voters his personal interest in property taxes (presupposing it would be tough to convey that interest when you live at home with your parents).

Nordstrom, aware of her opponent’s family resources, kept close watch on Lyon’s campaign finance filings. It didn’t seem she had much to worry about; a month before the election, Lyon’s campaign had collected a little less than $5,000 (compared to her $10,000). Based on those figures, Nordstrom knew Lyon couldn’t spend as much as she previously anticipated, so she scaled back her campaign. This was reinforced when Lyon listed $636.88 as his campaign balance on the 11-Day Pre-Election Report. Continue reading

AZ (preclearance): Arizona challenges the Voting Rights Act; why not just bailout?

by Kevin Elliker

On August 25, 2011, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed suit on behalf of the state of Arizona against the Department of Justice alleging the unconstitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. Horne specifically challenged the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the act. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to defend the Voting Rights Act, declaring that it plays “a vital role” in ensuring fairness for American democracy.

A brief primer on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act:

In 1965, Congress passed the VRA in order to better enforce the 15th Amendment. Jurisdictions with histories of pronounced racial discrimination in voting practices were singled out by Section 5 and required to receive preclearance from the Attorney General or a three-judge panel of the District Court of the District of Columbia for any changes to their voting laws. The 1965 iteration of the preclearance formula forced mostly southern states into this category, but also specific jurisdictions within Arizona. In 1970, Arizona was once more included as partially covered by preclearance requirements. It was not until 1975, when the formula for preclearance was changed to include states that provided election materials in only English despite having at least five percent of voting age citizens from “a single language minority” that Arizona became an entirely covered jurisdiction. The 1975 iteration relied on 1972 election data, which meant that Arizona’s 1974 implementation of bilingual voter materials did not preclude them from preclearance requirements. The 1982 and 2006 renewals of VRA followed the 1975 formula. Continue reading

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