Add at least another $850,000 to the ad buys on behalf of two state assistant attorneys general who many say are the beneficiaries of an out-of-state spending bonanza in an effort to unseat at least one of five sitting Oakland County Circuit Court judges up for re-election on Nov. 6.
After the Spinal Column Newsweekly two weeks ago first reported more than $200,000 in out-of-state cash propping up the campaigns of challengers Deborah Carley and William Rollstin, sources say two out-state groups are now on the hook to spend over $1 million on television air time for the Oakland County Circuit Court race in which incumbent judges Phyllis McMillen, Leo Bowman, Denise Langford-Morris, Wendy Potts, and Michael Warren are running for six-year terms paying $139,919 annually.
Americans for Job Security, which was running a negative ad against McMillen through at least Sunday, Sept. 30, has purchased at least $662,650 in air time on Comcast, the WOW cable network, WXYZ and WDIV, according to television ad contracts provided to the Spinal Column Newsweekly.
The first ad Americans for Job Security ran, titled “Criminal Neglect” and costing nearly $150,000 to run, promptly drew criticism from McMillen’s campaign team, which said that claims made in it are patently false.
What remains in store in terms of ad content from Americans for Job Security — an Arlington, Va.-based 501(c)6 tax-exempt organization which has at least another $555,000 in ad time in the hopper from Monday, Oct. 8 through the Nov. 6 general election — is a mystery.
The campaign team for the Unity Slate — which consists of the five incumbent judges and features Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and former Democratic Gov. James Blanchard as honorary co-chairmen — is also “leaving open” the chance that it will pursue legal action against Americans for Job Security for the content of the “Criminal Neglect” ad, the Spinal Column Newsweekly has learned.
“While the campaign is focused on reaching out to voters and talking about the importance of an independent judiciary, we are leaving open the possibility of legal remedies with regard to the false ads,” said Jennifer Murray, a spokeswoman for the Unity Slate.
And now the Judicial Crisis Network, which last week started running a positive ad for challengers Carley and Rollstin, is spending at least $327,000 on air time through four ad buys of $15,725, $70,800, $75,500 and $164,900, according to ad contracts forwarded to the Spinal Column Newsweekly.
“Our Oakland County Circuit Court needs new leadership,” the narrator states in the ad by the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington, D.C.-based operation helmed by Carrie Severino. “Prosecutors Bill Rollstin and Deb Carley have a plan for the Oakland County Circuit Court. Bill Rollstin took on public corruption in Oakland County, and he shut it down. Deb Carley protects our families by prosecuting criminals who would seek to harm our children. Prosecuting criminals and protecting our children. Bill Rollstin and Deb Carley. To learn about the Bill Rollstin and Deb Carley plan, go to www.therollstincarleyplan.com.”
As of Tuesday, Oct. 2, there was no “plan” posted on the website the ad directs viewers to visit. As of press time, the site’s only content was the ad and a disclaimer saying that the ad was paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network and “was not authorized by any candidate’s committee.”
The Judicial Crisis Network, which was named the Judicial Confirmation Network during the administration of former President George W. Bush and promoted the appointment of his nominees to federal bench seats, has ad time purchased from Monday, Sept. 24 through the Nov. 6 general election, documents show.
“We support legislative and legal efforts which oppose attempts to undermine the rule of law; unconstitutionally expand the power of government; politicize the enforcement of the law; threaten American sovereignty; supplant American law with foreign or international law; or bias the legal system on behalf of politically favored groups or individuals,” the Judicial Crisis Network’s mission statement reads, in part.
McMillen, appointed to the Circuit Court bench by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, is running on the Unity Slate with fellow incumbents Potts, Warren, Bowman, and Langford-Morris. The five judges are from different political backgrounds but have come together to run as a five-person slate in light of the challenges from Carley and Rollstin, both of whom sources say have been scarce on the campaign trail.
Peter R. Robbio of CRC Public Relations, which does PR work for the Judicial Crisis Network, wrote in an e-mail to the Spinal Column Newsweekly, in part, “the Judicial Crisis Network initiated an advertising campaign in the state of Michigan as a part of that mission ['to educate and organize citizens to participate' in furthering the 'Founders' vision of a nation of limited government; dedicated to the rule of law; with a fair and impartial judiciary]. The ad pretty much speaks for itself. The funding for the ad came from general revenues.”
“When anonymous, out-of-state donors pour a million dollars into supporting a race, you have to expect they want something in return,” Murray said. “In this case, they must believe Debbie Carley and William Rollstin are going to deliver.”
Rumors have long circulated among many political insiders of both parties that a wealthy Michigan resident is spearheading the effort to oust McMillen because of a grievance with one of her rulings, but the Spinal Column Newsweekly has not been able to independently confirm that rumor.
Carley’s and Rollstin’s campaign apparatus was essentially paid for by three out-of-state donors: Andrew McKenna of Virginia, John Bryan of Oregon, and John Templeton, Jr. of Pennsylvania, all three of whom contribute heavily to federal Republican candidates and influential GOP Super PACs.
In the Circuit Court race, however, the out-of-state trio’s money went to the Citizen’s Action Fund, which is run by The Sterling Corporation, a Lansing-based Republican political consulting and communications firm. Those three men donated $120,000 to the Citizen’s Action Fund, about $67,000 of which went to fund the start-up costs — for things like petition signature collection, website design and hosting, and media photos and video — of Carley’s and Rollstin’s campaigns
Both Carley and Rollstin originally listed Sterling’s Lansing address as that of their campaign committees, but have since changed their committees’ addresses to ones in Bloomfield and Troy, respectively.
Murray again hit Carley and Rollstin on the out-of-state funding.
“If Carley and Rollstin were to sit on the bench, whose interests would they serve — the people of Oakland County, or their anonymous backers?”
Ellen Kletzka, who is listed as the designated treasurer and bookkeeper for the Citizen’s Action Fund, declined comment when reached by phone last week after several weeks of unreturned voicemails and e-mails.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was published on Wednesday, Oct. 3 — and repeated attempts to get ahold of them in the previous weeks via phone and e-mail for this story and a Sept. 19 special report — Carley and Rollstin on their websites on Thursday, Oct. 4 posted the following statement.
The Spinal Column Newsweekly also published an editorial in the Oct. 3 edition calling on Carley and Rollstin to answer questions raised based on our reporting of the outside funding.
An unknown person from the Rollstin campaign responded to an e-mail from the Spinal Column Newsweekly stating that the following statement “will serve as the only response by the candidate on the matter.” The e-mail from the Rollstin campaign did not say who it was from.
Respecting the principles of our democracy sometimes requires us to accept outcomes that may not be to our personal liking. Thankfully the framers of our Constitution, through the electoral, judicial and legislative processes, provided individual citizens with ways in which to remedy those grievances.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that because spending money is essential to disseminating speech and struck down limitations on the right to free speech. In fact the court said, “there is no such thing as too much speech” and made clear their belief that the public has a right to have access to all information and can be trusted to determine the reliability, importance and relevance of the information.
Whether one is a proponent of the Court’s rationale in the case mentioned above or not, the simple fact of the matter remains that as long as outside entities comport with the requirements of the law, there is nothing that candidates, their opponents, reporters or so called “truth squads” can do to abridge the right to free speech.
Just as challengers to incumbents express their displeasure with the status quo, so too can citizens affect the process. Through the legislative process, either at the state or federal level, laws governing the way campaigns are financed can be amended, altered or otherwise changed.
It’s ironic that a slate of candidates, unified by incumbency and not by ideological or philosophical bonds, would whine about following the law as determined by judicial precedent passed by the highest court in the land. Yet again, this serves as an example of incumbent politicians who believe that the law applies to everyone but themselves. Entitlement to an elected office has no place in a democracy.
We believe that those who have expressed opposition to our candidacy, despite attacking us personally and not on our record or qualifications, have the same legal rights as those who are opposed to our opponents.
The reason we have offered up ourselves as candidates is because we believe that we can improve the system through a series of reforms we have publically outlined and believe in a strict adherence to and respect for a rule of law judicial philosophy.
We believe that change is brought about best when concerned individuals dare to actively challenge the status quo rather than sit by as passive spectators.
And we believe the judges on the Oakland County Circuit Court should be chosen by the voters not appointed by elected officials. Appointed incumbency does not equate to lifetime entitlement.
These beliefs serve as our rationale for running for elected office and are more closely aligned with the thinking of Oakland County voters than those who place incumbency over integrity.