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Donation to judge raises doubt

by Seth Blomeley | September 23, 2010 at 3:27 a.m.

— A state Supreme Court candidate has accepted a campaign contribution from a political party’s county organization, and the head of the state judicial discipline agency said Tuesday that he doubts that’s appropriate.

But a spokesman for Court of Appeals Judge Karen Baker said receiving money from a political party in a nonpartisan race, such as the Supreme Court race, is fine.

Baker, who is seeking Position 6 on the Supreme Court, disclosed in her August campaign finance report filed last week that she received $250 from “VBC Republican Party.”

The donation was listed as having been made July 26.

Baker campaign consultant Chris Kell said the donation was from the Van Buren County Republican Party. Baker lives in Clinton in Van Buren County. Kell said the donation was probably made in August and that whoever filled out the campaign-finance form probably made a “typo” by putting “July 26.”

David Stewart, executive director of the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the donation, said there has never been a ruling by the commissionas to whether contributions from political parties may be accepted by judges.

He said there is no specific rule that bans it, either.

But “my opinion” is that when other rules are “read together” it is “pretty clear” that “you cannot accept political contributions from political organizations” if running for a nonpartisan judicial office, Stewart said.

He cited:

Amendment 80 to the state constitution, adopted by voters in 2000 to make judicial elections nonpartisan.

Judicial canons that ban judicial candidates from seeking endorsements or accepting endorsements for use in their campaign and contributing to political parties.

“Whether or not the rules need to be reworked to express [a ban on receiving a donation from a party] is just a matter of an opinion,” Stewart said. “If you accept a contribution from a political organization you are accepting an endorsement of sorts even though it doesn’t take in a traditional endorsement in writing.”

Kell said Baker is familiar with the judicial canons.

“A contribution doesn’t mean an endorsement,” Kell said.

He said there would only be a problem if she promoted the endorsement in her campaign, which she hasn’t.

Baker is running against Circuit Judge Tim Fox of Little Rock in the Nov. 2 election.

Fox said he had no comment about Baker’s Republican contribution.

“We decided we’re not going to accept any partisan contributions,” Fox said.

Arkansas, Pages 8 on 09/23/2010

Print Headline: Donation to judge raises doubt

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