Party committees biggest donors to state court justices

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There’s no question that party committees, labor, business groups and trial lawyers in Illinois — and across the country — find judicial candidates a worthy investment.

In the 2010 contentious judicial election cycle in Illinois, party committees — out of 15 of the top contributors — accounted for the largest amount of donations poured into high court contests in 2010 with labor coming in second, according to Followthemoney.org. The 2004 race involving Justice Lloyd Karmeier saw $9.3 million raised in all.

The Sun-Times looked at campaign donations to each of the current sitting Illinois Supreme Court justices going back to 2000, where applicable.

The analysis showed that both party committees and labor hold significant sway over the state judiciary’s campaign funds.

At $1.9 million, the Illinois Republican Party is the single largest donor to Karmeier, a Republican from downstate Nashville. The second largest was a group called JUSTPAC that pushes for limits on jury verdicts and restrictions on class-action lawsuits, accounting for $1.1 million of his campaign fund. JUSTPAC donates 99 percent of its money to Republicans, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Kilbride, on the other hand, has taken 158 donations totaling $2.62 million from the Michael Madigan-controlled Democratic Party of Illinois.

The same group topped Freeman’s list of donors at $63,000, while Theis’ top donor included her husband who is an attorney, at $22,400 as well as a smattering of lawyers. Thomas’ top donor was from Salvi & Schostok P.C. Law Offices; however, data indicates he has not taken donations in recent years.

At $189,000, Justice Rita Garman was the largest single contributor to her own campaign, but Republican groups, including the Sangamon County Republican Committee, accounted for the second-largest chunk of cash at $100,000 since 2000. JUSTPAC contributed more than $68,000 to Garman.

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