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The "dark money" that elected Michigan's Supreme Court

"The 2012 Supreme Court campaign was the most expensive and least transparent in history."


That's the unflattering takeaway from a new report from a consortium of groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. 

Of the $19 million dollars poured into the state's Supreme Court races, $13 million went to ads like the following.

This anti-Bridget McCormack ad was paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network, a DC-based group that appears to have just two staff members, yet plenty of money to buy ad time in Michigan. 


This anti-Republican candidate attack ad was paid for by the Michigan Democratic Party. 


Charming, aren't they?

Negative attack ads aren't new. But when it comes to ads in Michigan's Supreme Court races, we may never know who really paid for them. 

So there's no way to hold ad buyers responsible for their content, however inflammatory or inaccurate it may be.

This is all because Michigan's campaign laws have a big old loophole.

As long as these ads don't use specific language -- like the words "elect," or "vote," they count as "issue ads," so their buyers can remain anonymous.

It probably took partisan ad buyers about 30 seconds to come up with ad language that doesn't use the word "vote." 

Yet after all the money and mudslinging, the court's balance didn't even change. Conservative justices held on to their lead in the court 4-3.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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