Tag Archives: judicial selection

Big leaders in amendment campaign money: No on 1, Yes on 2

Opponents of a proposed state constitutional amendment on abortion are outspending supporters by well over $3-to-$1 with most of their money coming from out-of-state groups affiliated with Planned Parenthood, financial disclosures show.

But supporters of a proposed amendment on judicial selection enjoy an even more lopsided financial advantage over opponents of the proposal, according to disclosures filed with the state Registry of Election Finance on Wednesday.

The abortion proposal, Amendment 1 on Tuesday’s statewide ballot, would authorize the Legislature to put new restrictions on abortion by adding language to the state constitution that would effectively void a 2000 state Supreme Court decision known as Planned Parenthood vs. Sundquist.

That decision said the Tennessee constitution grants women a broader right to abortion than does the U.S. Constitution. If approved by voters, the constitution would be revised to say the Legislature has broad power to enact abortion restrictions – even in cases involving rape, incest of the life of the mother.

In new disclosures, the Vote No on One Tennessee campaign committee reported spending about $3.5 million from Oct. 1 through Oct. 25. The Vote Yes on 1 Ballot Committee reported spending just over $1 million in the same period.

The Vote No on One Committee, which had reported almost $1.6 million cash on hand Sept. 30, reported collecting more than $2 million more between Oct. 1 and Oct. 25.

Most of that money came from Planned Parenthood organizations in other states – the largest donation being $750,000 from Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, based in Seattle. Three California Planned Parenthood combined to donate $500,000 and a Massachusetts Planned Parenthood group gave $200,000.

Vote No on One reported spending $3,436,074 during the period, mostly on TV advertising. Counting earlier expenditures, Vote No on One spending has reached almost $4 million.

The Yes on 1 Ballot Committee, which is pushing for passage of the amendment, reported collecting $670,285 in contributions during the period and spending $1,041,354 – also mostly on TV advertising. The biggest single donor in the period was John Gregory of Bristol, whose family has made a fortune in the pharmaceutical business and who is a frequent contributor to conservative causes. His brother, James Gregory, had earlier donated $50,000.

Most of the other Yes on 1 contributions came from church groups, anti-abortion organizations and individuals making relatively modest donations of $1,000 or less.
Counting earlier spending, the Yes on 1 group has now spent a total of about $1.5 million.
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DAs endorse Amendment 2 passage over ‘strong opposition’

The start of a TNReport post by Mark Todd Engler:

At their fall meeting in Memphis last week, the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference voted to endorse Amendment 2, a proposed change to the state Constitution to grant the governor authority to pick Supreme Court and appellate judges. But the vote was by no means unanimous, and it took two tries to get it over the two-thirds hump that the conference requires for making such endorsements.

“Quite frankly, there was strong opposition from a few,” Wally Kirby, executive director for the DA’s organization, told TNReport. “Some of them feel like all of the judges should be properly, popularly elected — like they are (at the trial court level).”

Kirby said that Bill Gibbons, a former Shelby County prosecutor who for the past four years has served as head of the state’s Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security, was on hand and lobbying heavily for the endorsement. Gibbons’ boss, Gov. Bill Haslam, is chairman of the “Yes on 2” campaign.

After an initial vote on Amendment 2 fell short, Kirby said there was a call for a redo. District attorneys from around the state who were absent from the meeting were contacted for their input. He said there was consensus among those present that “this was something that they ought to have input on from all the elected DAs — so phone calls were made to the ones who couldn’t be there because of court appearances or whatever.”

There are 31 elected district attorneys general in Tennessee — and ultimately at least 21 voted to endorse Amendment 2.

Kirby wouldn’t provide names of those who voted against the measure, but he related that some felt Amendment 2 is confusing, and that the campaign in favor of it has been misleading. The “Yes on 2″ commercial suggesting that the amendment protects the people’s right to vote for judges is “very deceiving,” he said.

“That is an out-and-out falsehood,” said Kirby. “It does not give you the opportunity to vote for a judge. It gives you the opportunity to vote in a retention election eight years from now.”

Amendment 1 TV ad spending at $2M so far — more no than yes

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Supporters and opponents of a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion are flooding the television airwaves to try to influence voters ahead next month’s election.

A new study released by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity on Thursday finds that a total of $2.4 million has been spent to run more than 3,000 TV spots about ballot measures going before voters this election, with the vast majority of the advertising concerning the abortion amendment.

Amendment One seeks to nullify a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that found several abortion restrictions in state law at the time violated a woman’s fundamental right to privacy as guaranteed in the Tennessee Constitution. The decision struck down laws requiring a two-day waiting period and mandatory physician-only counseling and those banning second-trimester abortions from taking place anywhere but a hospital.

Opponents of the amendment have spent $1.3 million to run nearly 1,400 ads through the start of this week, while supporters have run 730 ads at a cost of about $606,000, according to the study.

The Vote No on One group is largely funded by Planned Parenthood, while the group supporting the amendment has been organized by Tennessee Right to Life. Advertising spiked in the week surrounding the start of early voting on Oct. 15, featuring a total of 1,136 spots by both sides at a combined cost of nearly $1 million.

Supporters of another ballot measure to largely keep Tennessee’s current system for merit selection of Supreme Court and appeals judges have spent about $280,000 to run 440 ads. Opponents have not run any ads on Amendment Two, nor have there been any ads on the other two amendments on the ballot seeking to ban a state income tax and to allow charitable gaming by veterans groups.

Meanwhile, a group called Red White and Food has spent about $222,000 on ads to support local referendums on allowing wine to be sold in supermarkets.

The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television and used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot between Jan. 1, 2013, and Monday.

These figures only represent part of the money spent on political advertising. They do not include any money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, nor do the numbers reflect ads that aired on local cable systems. The estimates also do not account for the cost of making the ads. That means the total cost of spending on political ads is likely significantly higher.

Campaign finance data rarely, if ever, present a hard total for all spending. A total like that usually is not available for months or sometimes years after the fact, and still is likely to miss some money.

Sunday column: Speculating on constitutional amendment outcomes

Doubtless the most controversial matter on our statewide ballot next month is the notion of granting the Legislature authority to ignore the Tennessee Constitution — or at least the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of it — in writing new restrictions on abortion.

Constitutional Amendment 1 is on the ballot as a result of many years of dedicated efforts by anti-abortion activists that, after much convoluted maneuvering, led to lopsided approval by state legislators for putting the matter to a statewide vote. All Republicans in the Legislature approved the measure and many perceived it as a means of generating a big turnout among Republican voters, generally perceived as anti-abortion.

As things have turned out, Amendment 1 has clearly become a focus of Democratic hopes for bolstering their turnout in a mid-term election year — a year when there is no voting for president of the United States. And Tennessee’s remnant Democrats have been lacking in a reason to go to the polls anyway. Republicans are going to win everything, you know, so why bother?

Democrats generally are perceived, accurately polls would indicate, as supporting abortion rights. Ergo, an attack on abortion rights gets the Democratic base all fired up.

The state Democratic Party has officially opposed Amendment 1. The state Republican Party officially supports it. Gordon Ball, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, make opposition a part of his generic stump speech. So do most other Democrats in areas where there are Democrats.

A curious exception is Lenda Sherrell, the Democratic nominee in the 4th Congressional District, who says she has no position on Amendment 1 — a state issue, she declares, not one that Congress deals with, so she takes a pass — even though she’s pro-choice generally. But that’s doubtless a matter of campaign strategy. Her opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, already has some inherent and well-publicized difficulties in dealing with abortion in his personal life — he has apparently approved abortions by women with whom he had relationships on at least three occasions.

On the other side, anti-abortion activists are also inspired. Get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Amendment 1 are underway in many churches — Baptist, Catholic and other denominations believing that life begins at conception. In that respect, the hope for generating a big Republican-inclined voter turnout may be working.
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A rundown on constitutional amendment campaign spending — No ahead on 1; yes on 2, 3

When it comes to money in current campaigning on proposals to revise Tennessee’s state constitution, opponents of change hold a lead on a measure dealing with abortion while proponents are ahead on two other propositions, according to new financial disclosures.
Amendment 1, which would effectively repeal a state Supreme Court decision and authorize the Legislature to enact more stringent restrictions on abortion, has become the most controversial of four proposed constitutional amendment and has prompted the most intense fundraising.

The Vote No on 1 campaign committee reported in a new financial disclosure, covering the period of July 1 through Sept. 30, that is has $1,587,821 cash on hand for spending in the weeks leading up to a statewide vote Nov. 4. The Yes on 1 committee reported a balance of $511,026

The No on 1 campaign has already spent about $350,000, reports show; the Yes on 1 committee about $400,000. . Both groups launched TV advertising last week, so spending on the ads is not reflected in the reports dated Sept. 30 and filed Friday.

Knoxville-based Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee provided $500,000 of donations to Vote No on 1 reported in the new disclosure and had contributed $190,000 earlier. Most other major contributions have come from other Planned Parenthood affiliates – including several outside Tennessee — and the American Civil Liberalities Union.

The amendment, if passed, would negate the 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision in a case known as Planned Parenthood vs. Sundquist that struck down Legislature-approved restrictions on abortion and held that the state constitution, as now written, provides women with a greater right to abortion than does the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous case of Roe vs. Wade.

The new Vote Yes on 1 disclosure shows the biggest single contribution as $50,000 from James Gregory of Bristol, a member of a family that made a fortune in founding King Pharmaceuticals Inc., then selling it, and has been active in financially supporting conservative political causes. Karen Burkardt, lead lobbyist of Tennessee Right to Life at the Legislature, has donated $35,000.

An affiliated non-profit group set up last year to launch fundraising efforts provided $20,000 in the most recent disclosure. Joseph E. “Ed” Albin, treasurer of Yes on 1 campaign committee, said the nonprofit affiliate, which is not required to disclose its donors, initially conducted educational efforts as well, but is no longer actively doing so.

Other donations to the Yes on 1 committee have mostly come from individuals, churches or Right to Life affiliates.

Earlier, Right to Life President Brian Harris said Vote Yes on 1 had a goal of raising and spending $2.5 million. Vote No on 1 leaders have said they hoped to raise and spend about $4 million by election day, Nov. 4.

Both groups reported significant “in kind” contributions as well – donations in forms other than cash. Yes on 1 reported $32,612 in in-kind donations on its latest report, the biggest being $25,000 for “professional services” furnished by Tennessee Right to Life. No on 1 reported $111,004 of in-kind donations, the largest being $70,000 from Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis for “personnel, travel, printing and miscellaneous expenses.”

Besides the two main Amendment 1 campaign committees, two smaller groups have registered to raising and spending money against passage and three to promote passage. One of the opposing groups, Tennessee Students Voting No on 1, reported spending about $13,647 in its only report and the other, Women Matter – Northeast Tennessee, reported $1,926 in spending. Both reported less than $1,000 cash on hand. The groups registered to support passage have reported no spending so far.

Amendment 2 would validate the current system of choosing Tennessee appeals court judges – initial appointment by the governor with voters given the chance to approve or reject his selections in a later retention election. It would add a new requirement that the governor’s choices be confirmed by the Legislature.

The Yes on 2 committee reported a cash on hand balance of $557,632 going into the final month of campaigning, having spent so far about $214,000. The biggest chunk of donations has come from Tennessee Business Partnership, a group of corporations set up earlier this year to promote business interests. The Business Partnership provided $250,000 in September and earlier had given $125,000. It also reported $30,000 in “in kind” donations in the last report.

Other donors to Yes on 2, which has Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen as co-chairmen, are mostly lawyers and law firms.

The Vote No on 2 committee reported just $2,250 in contributions and expenditures of $29.25.

Amendment 3 would prohibit the Legislature from ever enacting a tax on personal income. The Yes on 3 committee reported just $12,670 in cash spending and a $90.43 balance on Oct. 1, but $201,457 in “in-kind” donations by Pelopidas, LLC of St. Louis, Mo., which has been hosting a tour around the state by a 200-foot-long “airship” to promote passage of the amendment.

Citizens for Fiscal Sanity, the lead group opposing passage, reported a balance of $14,449 in its account after spending $8,529. Its biggest donor was the Tennessee Education Association, which contributed $5,000.

Amendment 4 would authorize veterans organizations such as the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans to hold fundraising events that involve some form of lottery-like gambling. Currently, other charitable organizations can hold such events – subject to legislative approval each year – but not veterans groups.

No campaign committees have been set up to either support or oppose passage of Amendment 4.

Sen. Bell developing ‘contingency plan’ for Amendment 2 rejection: Popular elections for top judges

News release via Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn., October 13, 2014 — State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said today he is already working on a legislative contingency plan for how appellate judges should be elected in the event that voters reject Amendment Two to the State Constitution in the upcoming general election. Amendment Two proposes to constitutionalize the current retention vote system for choosing the state’s appellate judges with some modifications that mirror the federal judicial selection method. Early voting on the proposed change to the Constitution begins Wednesday.

“The impetus for putting Amendment Two on the ballot is that the General Assembly was not comfortable that the state is in compliance with the State Constitution through our current ‘retain or replace’ system of choosing appellate judges,” said Senator Bell, who is Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “I agree that we are not in compliance with that requirement. The Constitution clearly states judges shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state, not stand for a retention vote eight years after being selected by the governor.”

“This is not the first time that an amendment has been presented to the people to constitutionalize the selection process with a retention vote,” added Bell. “It was proposed as part of a constitutional amendment presented to voters for ratification in 1978. Out of 13 amendments, this was the only one rejected by voters; however, the appellate selection process continued contrary to the plain language of the State Constitution and the will of the people who voted it down.” (Note: The emailed release includes a link to a report on the 1978 constitutional convention amendments, HERE.)

“That cannot be the case this time if Amendment Two is rejected,” he added. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution and if voters disagree with the proposed amendment, changes must be made. It shouldn’t take twice for that to happen. We need to get it right.”

There are 29 appellate court positions in Tennessee affected by the proposed retention vote system amendment. The state’s 155 popularly elected trial court positions are elected through popular lections.

Bell said he is considering election of appellate judges through districts, rather than statewide elections in his proposal. He also said he would consider non-partisan elections, rather than nomination of candidates through party primaries.

“I am looking over several proposals to see what would be the best fit for Tennessee,” he added.

Bell said if voters reject the Amendment 2, he will file the legislation as soon as possible after the November election to give lawmakers an opportunity to review it before the General Assembly convenes in January.

AP story on Amendment 2

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee voters will begin casting ballots next week on whether to keep but modify the state’s current method of selecting appeals judges and Supreme Court Justices.

Under the current system, the governor makes appointments to fill vacancies on the state’s top courts. Voters then decide whether to keep or replace them in uncontested retention elections. A proposed constitutional amendment would add a provision to give the Legislature the power to reject the governor’s nominees.

“We have to bring finality to this issue of selecting judges in Tennessee,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a supporter of the amendment.

Opponents of the current system argue the retention elections violate a provision in the Tennessee Constitution that says the Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” and dismiss various legal rulings supporting the current system as tainted because they were made by jurists who have a stake in the current system.

Supporters like Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen call the system a way to advance the best candidates for the bench and to avoid overly political judicial elections involving head-to-head contests between candidates.

Haslam has argued that injecting legislative approval to the mix adds a layer of accountability, as voters would elect both the governor who nominates the judges and the legislators who would confirm or reject them.

Haslam and Bredesen have toured the state together and appear together in a television ad promoting the “Yes on 2” campaign.
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First ‘Yes on 2’ TV ad features Bredesen, Haslam

News release from Vote Yes on 2 campaign committee:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The Vote Yes on 2 campaign today unveiled its first television spot that will begin running across the state next week in support of Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 is the judicial selection amendment to the state constitution that will strengthen the voice of the voters in selecting appellate court judges in Tennessee.

The TV spot features Governor Bill Haslam and former Governor Phil Bredesen, who are co-chairs of the Vote YES on 2 campaign, as well as an array of top leaders from respected organizations from across the state, encouraging Tennesseans to Vote YES on 2.

Campaign spokesman John Crisp said the new TV spot will begin airing on broadcast stations and cable TV outlets on Monday, October 13.

“We are pleased that Amendment 2 has earned such broad and bipartisan support from so many top leaders and respected organizations who want fair and impartial judges held accountable to the people of Tennessee,” Crisp said. “Now we look forward to the next three weeks as voters learn more about why passing Amendment 2 is so important to the future our of state.”

Crisp said a companion radio spot, featuring former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, another campaign co-chair, will also begin running across the state next week.

Note: Script is below
A script of the new Vote YES on 2 TV spot follows:
Vote YES on 2 — TV :30
Title: “Everyone””

“Tennesseans from across the state are voting YES on Amendment 2”
(Laura Frost, Past President, Sumner County Bar Association)

“Because YES on 2 protects our right to vote for judges”
(Lacy Upchurch, President, Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation)

“And YES on 2 adds new accountability”
(Sheriff Bill Holt, President, Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association)

“So we have fair and impartial judges”
(Madeleine Taylor, Executive Director, NAACP, Memphis Branch)

“Held accountable to the people of Tennessee”
(Gov. Phil Bredesen)”

“It’s your voice. Your vote on judges.”
(Gov. Bill Haslam)

“Together, we can move Tennessee forward.”
(Gov. Bredesen)

“By voting YES on Amendment 2.”
(Gov. Haslam)



Ramsey’s predictions and commentary on constitutional amendments

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey thinks two of the proposed state constitutional amendments on the November ballot will be easily approved, reports the Kingsport Times News, but is apparently uncertain about two others – though he supports them.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, predicted Amendments Three and Four will pass easily. Amendment Three would prohibit a personal income tax in the state. Amendment Four would allow not-for-profit veterans’ groups operating under 501c-19 tax status to hold an annual lottery event to benefit the group.

Ramsey gave a thumbs-up to Amendment One… “Tennessee has become the most pro-abortion state in the nation right now,” Ramsey insisted. “What this amendment (one) does is put us back to where we were before 2000 and allow us as legislators to pass bills to regulate abortion.”

Ramsey also warned pro-choice advocates will air “scare tactic” advertisements leading up to the Nov. 4 vote on Amendment One.

…On Amendment Two… “In my opinion now, what we’re doing is unconstitutional,” Ramsey said of the retention elections. “… Retention elections were not what they had in mind in 1870 (when the state constitution was written). … It’s been upheld (by the state Supreme Court) three times that retention elections are elections. I adamantly disagree with that. (Amendment Two) would at least make what we’re doing now constitutional. … That’s up to you on what you want to do with that one.”

After Ramsey spoke, Walt Brumit of Greeneville attempted to ask Ramsey a question about Amendment Two and argued there’s not enough ballot information on the issue.

In front of luncheon attendees, Ramsey told Brumit: “Let me be up front with you Walter, I’m not supposed to talk to you. My attorney advised me to not be talking to you right now.”

Brumit, who was wearing a “No On Two” badge at the luncheon, is part of a team led by Nashville judicial system critic John Jay Hooker, who recently convinced a Davidson County grand jury to recommend criminal charges against Ramsey and GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell for failing to appoint an adequate number of women and minorities to a judicial performance commission that decides whether Tennessee’s appeals judges keep their jobs.

Dissenter in the audience as Haslam pitches Amendment 1

Gov. Bill Haslam was joined by retired Supreme Court Justice George Brown in a largely scripted panel discussion promoting passage of Amendment 1 Monday in Memphis, reports the Commercial Appeal. But at least one audience member wasn’t following the script.

If state constitutional Amendment 2 passes on Tennessee’s November ballot, it will chisel the governor’s power to select appellate court judges into stone.

That, Gov. Bill Haslam said in Memphis on Monday, is actually a pro-voter move: Voters elect the governor, they elect the General Assembly who would confirm appointments and they vote whether to retain the judges.

“Voters would have a chance, really, to weigh in three times,” Haslam said following an event at the Kroc Center.

…Hal Rounds of Fayette County was among the 100 or so in attendance. He clutched a package of black-and-white brochures in his hands that featured a photo of Darth Vader and asked this question: “Who Will Choose Tennessee’s Top Judges? Tennessee Voters? Or Lawyers, Politicians And Special Interests?”

“This is the final step in hijacking from the people their power to actually put judges in the seats,” Rounds said following the event.

…Brown said — and repeated, for effect — that “apathy is our greatest opponent.” That’s a nod to the numbers game that will determine whether the amendment makes its way to the constitution. To pass, it must receive one more vote than 50 percent of the number of votes cast in the gubernatorial race, a sleepy one this year given that Haslam only has token Democratic opposition.