The Associated Press
SALEM - State records show that two of the three Oregon Supreme Court judges who won re-election this year got campaign aid from labor unions and union-affiliated political committees, according to The Bulletin of Bend.
Donations to judges aren't unusual. But this year, the high court is considering a lawsuit that's of especial interest to unions. The suit, filed by public workers, seeks to overturn a massive pension reform package passed by the 2003 Legislature.
The court recently heard oral arguments on the case, in which public workers contend that reductions in their retirement benefits amount to a breach of contract.
Justice Rives Kistler received almost $30,000 in donations from labor groups out of a total of $283,612 he raised.
Justice William Riggs, who got checks from labor organizations in his 1998 campaign, received about $15,000 from unions this year - which represented the lion's share of his $16,885 campaign pot.
State Rep. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, the chairman of the House committee that drafted the cost-cutting proposals, said the donations were unfortunate, but that the judges' impartiality is not necessarily compromised.
"I don't believe money will influence justice, but it reflects poorly on the people who are giving it," he said. "It's a substantial amount of support to judicial candidates when you have a significant issue in front of the court, and the public needs to be aware it is happening."
Leslie Frane, director of the Oregon Public Employees Union, said Tuesday her organization treated this year's campaigns the same as previous ones and dismissed suggestions of any attempt to buy goodwill.
"We interview the candidates about the values they bring to their jobs," she said. "We don't discuss specific cases; that would be inappropriate. Our motives are to ensure the fairest and most qualified officials are elected at all levels of government."
Riggs said judicial candidates routinely attract campaign support from lawyers and groups that could have cases end up at the Supreme Court.
"There's a perception that people receive donations from lawyers or other interests are somehow buying justice," he said. "Unfortunately you can't run a race sitting back and hoping people will vote for you. You have to get your name out."
Kistler agreed, but also noted a danger of tainting public perception.
"I think it is always important that the public realize that judges act impartially," he said. "You get support from people on every side but you put those aside as the judge and focus on what matters, which is the law."