VanderSloot won Supreme Court race
May 27, 2010
Lewiston Morning Tribune
One of Idaho's richest men now has tainted two of Idaho's five Supreme Court members.
Does that bother you?
Late in the campaign, a third-party group calling itself Idaho Citizens for Justice began running ads slamming 2nd District Judge John Bradbury and promoting the incumbent, Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick.
Burdick prevailed in Tuesday's primary election.
But until the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell broke the story just before the primary, nobody knew who or what Idaho Citizens for Justice was. The group had failed to comply with Idaho Sunshine Law requirements that it register with the Idaho secretary of state's office and disclose where it got its money and where that money was spent.
Turns out Idaho Citizens for Justice got half its money from Melaleuca Inc., an Idaho Falls firm owned by Frank VanderSloot, and got its other half from Citizens for Commonsense.
Melaleuca was that organization's sole contributor.
Between them, Bradbury and Burdick spent $134,000. In other words, VanderSloot added another 29 percent to the pot.
Perhaps this concealment was inadvertent. Other individuals were listed as running these campaigns. But this is not VanderSloot's first or even second venture into judicial elections. You'd think by now he'd understand the state's campaign finance requirements.
In 2006, VanderSloot and his wife Belinda invested nearly $15,000 in a third-party campaign - calling itself Citizens for Truth and Justice - that helped oust 7th District Judge James Herndon.
And in 2000, it was VanderSloot who bankrolled Concerned Citizens for Family Values' last-minute assault on incumbent Supreme Court Justice Cathy Silak. Concerned Citizens spent $70,000 helping Justice Daniel Eismann best Silak. Of that, $50,000 came from VanderSloot.
Here's the pattern: Silak, Herndon and Bradbury were linked to the Democratic Party. Eismann openly embraced conservative support. Burdick once was elected Jerome County prosecutor as a Republican.
Although he's the biggest individual player in Idaho's judicial elections, VanderSloot is by no means unique. Corporations and wealthy individuals are finding a way to invest in electing the judges they prefer. A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the trend when it directed a sitting judge to remove himself from hearing a case involving a company that spent $3 million getting him elected.
How much of an effect is this having on the judges? Hard to tell. You won't find a more independent jurist than Burdick, who drew support from a broad coalition from left to right. There is no evidence that he courted or even welcomed VanderSloot's help.
Just the same, any judge who crosses VanderSloot and his company in a courtroom now has to recognize that the millionaire may choose to inject his checkbook into the next judicial contest.
What's beyond dispute, however, is how a decade of VanderSloot's interference in these elections has eroded public trust and confidence in an impartial and independent judiciary.
How can anyone expect to get a fair day in court if he goes up against VanderSloot or his company before a judge whose campaign benefited from VanderSloot's support?
But as long as Idaho insists on electing its judges - and choosing most of them in a low-turnout, partisan-dominated Republican primary election - the temptation for corporate manipulation in those campaigns will be difficult to resist.
Originally posted at http://www.lmtribune.com/story/opinion/510143/
The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.
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