Show me the money

By The Madison County Record | Jan 27, 2008

Class action trial lawyer Judy Cates has spent almost $670,000 in her campaign for Fifth District Appellate Court judge.

Good for her.

Appellate Judge James Wexxsten's candidacy for the same Southern Illinois seat is apparently so inspirational--or Cates' is so frightening to some donors--that he has attracted serious donations from far and wide. They've come via some supporters Wexxsten admits he doesn't know.

Good for him, too.

Tis' the season for press scrutiny over campaign finance reports, and we're here once again to play contrarian.

Far from a scourge, big money in judicial elections is a good thing. And when it begets big public attention to the races--Cates is reportedly spending a massive $250,000 to a Chicago media firm for her television ads--the money is well spent.

Call it democracy at work and election season at its best. Money equals free speech in our media-driven political process. The more, the merrier.

No matter how hard the know-it-all elites currently in power try to convince us, we shouldn't buy the argument that judicial candidates shouldn't spend money to overcome voter ignorance. Voters aren't fools who require protection from wily, over-promising politicians. One doesn't need a law degree to make rational choices about who's best to sit in judgment.

There was a time around these parts when judicial elections came and went silently; when voters wouldn't recognize many names on their judicial ballots, much less knew the candidates' positions.

Back then, there was little money in judicial politics. There was no public acrimony between dueling views on court-related issues. There wasn't even widespread acknowledgement that such disagreements existed.

Yet they did. And while the public didn't know, the insiders ran our courts their way.

We mean the incumbent judges and lawyers.

The former would prefer a silent anointing to spending time and effort convincing us of their competence or integrity. The latter-- especially the ones seeking to scoop up the most cash around the courthouse-- prefer to operate in the shadows. They don't want average citizens opining on their often self-serving, law-twisting arguments or their fat contingency fees.

Judge Wexxsten would much rather have run unopposed this year. Ms. Cates probably prefers other uses for her personal fortune.

That neither got their wish this election season means our system of representative democracy is working-- just as planned.

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