The U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in the Citizens United case continues to play itself out right here in Oakland County as two candidates for the Oakland County Circuit Court are benefiting from what is now at least $2 million in outside spending on television ads from a pair of conservative Arlington, Va.-based groups.
Advertising contracts provided to the Spinal Column Newsweekly show that Americans for Job Security (AJS) and the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) have upped the ante in Deborah Carley’s and William Rollstin’s quests for Circuit Court bench seats against incumbent Judges Phyllis McMillen, Wendy Potts, Denise Langford Morris, Leo Bowman and Michael Warren — the five judges who are diverse politically but are running as the Unity Slate — in the final days before the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election.
Those two non-profit groups, advertising on both cable and network television, don’t have to disclose their donors due to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case that came down in 2010, overturning key provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act.
Speculation has been rampant about who is forking over that kind of money in a local non-partisan Circuit Court race, with sources in the legal and political communities pointing their fingers at one Michigan businessperson upset with a ruling McMillen delivered, but the Spinal Column Newsweekly has not been able to independently confirm that rumor.
The previous estimated total, according to air time purchase contracts provided to the Spinal Column Newsweekly, showed that just over $1 million was going toward running a negative ad targeting McMillen — one that the campaign for the Unity Slate calls patently false and misleading — paid for by AJS and the JCN’s positive ads touting Carley’s and Rollstin’s plan for the Circuit Court, which the ad says “needs new leadership.”
Since then, an additional $1 million in television ad time has been purchased, including most recently three separate ad buys by the JCN of $134,955, $140,537 and $146,233 — for a total of $421,725 — through the Smart Media Group of Alexandria, Va., which lists as clients the Republican National Committee; the National Republican Congressional Committee; the U.S. departments of Treasury and Homeland Security; the U.S. Coast Guard; and U.S. Sen. and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain.
The JCN also placed a $210,600 ad buy with WDIV-Local 4 to run a positive ad about Carley and Rollstin. All told, the four JCN ad buys total $632,325.
The purchasing agent for the negative AJS ads — one costing $312,700 on WDIV running from Oct. 9 through Nov. 6 and a $42,700 radio spot on WWJ-AM running from Oct. 15 through Nov. 5 — is Strategic Media Placement of Columbus, Ohio.
That means a new $988,000 has been injected into television and radio advertising either benefiting Carley and Rollstin or targeting one of their opponents — McMillen — since the Spinal Column Newsweekly reported the more than $1 million going into the race.
Between the television advertising, mail pieces, radio advertising, robocalls, and campaign start-up expenses, sources estimate that at this point the spending by outside groups in the Circuit Court race is over $2.5 million. And even with less than a week to go until Tuesday’s general election, that figure could easily climb.
“It really stretches the bounds of credibility to expect voters to believe that there is no coordination in this situation,” said Jennifer Murray, the spokeswoman for the Unity Slate. “Somebody other than Carley and Rollstin paid to put their names on the ballot and run a multi-million dollar campaign for their benefit. The lack of disclosure by the Carley-Rollstin team is alarming. For candidates or judges, integrity really does matter.”
Carley has been quoted in one Lansing publication as saying she doesn’t know anything about Americans for Jobs Security or the Judicial Crisis Network.
The money being poured into the Circuit Court race benefiting Carley and Rollstin also shocks campaign finance watchdogs, including Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
“It’s unprecedented,” Robinson said. “Nationally, it’s a true anomaly.”
In addition, AJS — which Robinson has categorized as a “rental political assassin” — is also funding a mailer attacking the “liberal” judges on the Oakland County Circuit Court bench, who the mailer accuses of “assaulting our values, promoting abortion, (and) undermining traditional marriage;” Carley and Rollstin in the mailer are called “conservatives” who are “100% pro life.”
Circuit courts have little-to-no jurisdiction over abortion and gay marriage issues.
The Carley and Rollstin campaign apparatuses were bankrolled by three out-of-state donors, who all contributed significant sums to the Citizens Action Fund (CAF), a political action committee (PAC) run by the Republican-leaning political consulting firm, The Sterling Corporation.
Both Carley and Rollstin originally used Sterling’s Lansing address in their campaign committee filings with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.
Andrew J. McKenna of Arlington, Va. ($100,000 contributed to the CAF on July 18); John Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore. ($10,000 donated on June 6); and John Templeton, Jr. of Conshohocken, Penn. ($10,000 contributed on June 25) were the three donors who ponied up a total of $120,000 to the CAF, which then funneled that money to the Sterling Corporation to pay for things like petition signature collection and website design for the Carley and Rollstin campaigns that benefited from those donations to the tune of about $67,000 total.
The Sterling Corporation’s Steve Linder, now listed as the designated treasurer of the CAF, was the national finance director for the campaign promoting Proposition 8 in California in 2008, which banned gay marriage in that state.
Templeton, his family, and his Templeton Foundation reportedly supported the Proposition 8 effort with a total $1.6 million in funding.
McKenna, Bryan, and Templeton are all heavy supporters of Republican causes and candidates for federal elected office, FEC records show.
For their part, the Carley and Rollstin campaign committees reported just $8,926 and $5,050 spent during the most recent campaign finance reporting period, reports for which were submitted on Friday, Oct. 26. The challengers did report $35,555 (Carley) and $8,775 (Rollstin) in direct contributions from supporters.
The relatively small amount spent by their campaigns so far is causing some to question how Carley and Rollstin thought they could mount a viable Circuit Court challenge with such little funding if they didn’t know they would have considerable backing from outside sources.
By contrast, Potts’ committee spent $57,426; McMillen’s spent $56,566; Bowman’s spent $57,692; Langford Morris’ spent $58,829; and Warren’s spent $56,924. Each incumbent judge raised roughly $95,000 to $100,000 during the reporting period that ended Friday.
Nancy Carley contributed $2,485 to her daughter’s campaign on Aug. 15, while Carley’s father, Garry Carley, contributed a total of $1,895. Garry Carley is the owner of The Heathers Club in Bloomfield Hills, the address of which, 900 Scotsborough Way, Deborah Carley uses for her election campaign committee’s.
Other contributors to Carley’s campaign committee include Kenneth Way of Naples, Fla. ($2,000); Sean Tracey of Friendswood, Texas ($1,500); John Beneicke of Bloomfield Hills ($1,000); Sally Ann Carrier of Bingham Farms ($1,000); and Michael Kojaian of Bloomfield Hills ($1,000).
Rollstin’s campaign’s three largest donors were Linder ($2,500 on Sept. 25); Jeff Timmer ($2,500 on Sept. 25), another partner at The Sterling Corporation; and Garry Carley ($1,190 in three separate donations on Thursday, Oct. 18 and Sept. 20), campaign finance documents show.
With both Circuit Court hopefuls, the single-largest contributor to their election campaign committees was the Citizens Action Fund: $33,470 to Carley and $33,451 to Rollstin.