Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
House Testimony-State Government
Nov. 4, 2004

Chairman Carmichael, members of the committee ... thank you for providing me this opportunity to testify in support of the adoption of SB 214.

I come here to ask for your vote ... your vote for a judiciary that all citizens see as fair and impartial. I ask for your vote to remove the taint of secretive campaign donations; a vote for clean campaigns that enhance the rule of law.

When I testified in support of Senate Bill 214 on March 31, the candidates for the Supreme Court could only hope that we would not experience a repeat of the campaigns of 2000 and 2002.

Ohio voters were granted a reprieve this year from the damaging third party campaigns of those elections. Attack ads were kept to a minimum, and unregulated ads were positive by comparison to the last four years.

We can hope this is the beginning of a new trend, but the 2004 campaign might best be described as a vacation ... a momentary break from the expensive and distasteful campaigns of recent years.

We can hope, but I am not certain that “hope is on the way.”

There is little evidence to suggest that we have permanently removed anonymous contributions and the corresponding advertisements from judicial campaigns.

Unregulated ads in other states were prominent in 2004.

Putting aside the legal arguments, the General Assembly should make it clear, as described in Senate Bill 214, that any entity that is not affiliated with a candidate should be required to report the same information as reported by the candidate's committee.

A survey released earlier this year indicates that an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens would like to know who is paying for television advertisements in judicial campaigns.

A nationwide survey conducted for the non-partisan campaign monitoring group, Justice At Stake, found that 82 percent of respondents support full disclosure.

That is a margin of six to one for those who favor the type of disclosure contained in the legislation before you today.

In recent Supreme Court races in Ohio, information has been manipulated by groups promoting agendas that are not in the best interest of an impartial and independent judiciary, and not consistent with the messages produced by the candidates.

They conflict with the fundamental principles that distinguish the American system of justice from so many in the world.

When an advertisement attacks a judge on a legal issue, when an advertisement suggests a certain judge will produce a certain decision, the message to the public is that judges are not expected to be impartial.

The most damaging ads have been paid for by groups unaffiliated with the candidates. Some of those entities believe they are not required to publicly disclose their donors.

It seems that the less we know about the sponsors, the more provocative the advertisement.

Justice At Stake found that four out of five ads paid for by a candidate's campaign were positive, while special interest ads were negative nearly half the time.

Senate Bill 214 would reduce the anonymity that seems to encourage, if not promote, these harmful advertisements.

This bill would not infringe on the first amendment rights to free speech, but it would allow voters to know who is delivering the message. The legislation would not limit the message, but it would expand the information available to the public.

There is reason to conclude from the Supreme Court opinion in McConnell, that SB 214 does not create an unconstitutional imbalance between the regulation of fundraising for electronic messages and all others.

In the challenge to the McCain-Feingold law, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed issues of equal protection ... citing “real world differences” between political parties and interest groups.

I have long believed that every financial supporter of a campaign to elect or defeat a candidate should be publicly known.

I called on the Ohio House and Senate to require disclosure in judicial campaigns in my State of the Judiciary address to the General Assembly in March 2001, and in a speech the day after the 2002 general election.

More recently, I sent a letter to many of you after the United States Supreme Court upheld a similar provision in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act.

Full disclosure also was a recommendation of the participants at the forum on judicial independence held in March 2003. Members of the General Assembly participated in the all-day discussion with judges, citizen groups, labor and business leaders, as well as the leaders of the state political parties.

It was an historic moment when such a diverse group supported many of the same goals.

Through its rule making authority, the Supreme Court has taken steps to lessen the impact that contributions have on judicial campaigns.

In 1995 the Court worked in conjunction with the General Assembly to establish limits on judicial campaign contributions.

Last year the court raised the contribution limits to make them identical to those applicable to legislative and statewide candidates.

I strongly urge the leaders and members of the Ohio House of Representatives to act in a timely manner. An editorial that appeared in the Gannet newspapers in Ohio sends the clear message that timeliness is critical to the continued independence of the court. The editorial concluded: “It is time to let the sun shine on Supreme Court campaign ads.”

If we are to continue to elect the justices of the Supreme Court, we must remove the ability of the supporters of unauthorized campaigns to hide from their message.

The belief is that if all who contribute are publicly identified, the message is likely to be more responsible.

President Thomas Jefferson firmly believed in the competition of ideas, and recognized that democracy requires a well informed electorate.

In September 1820 Jefferson wrote this to a friend:

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

Today in Ohio , informed discretion will lead to informed, engaged citizens. But we must provide them the tools, the information they so rightly deserve. A law requiring full disclosure will provide a bright light for the voters of Ohio.

I ask for your vote on legislation that will give Ohio voters the information they so rightly deserve.