Two of the justices behind last week's pro-industry fracking decision in Ohio were the beneficiaries of that same industry's largesse, in the form of sizable campaign contributions, a Columbus Dispatch computer analysis has shown.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French authored the majority opinion in the 4-3 ruling that said state law trumped local ordinances intended to regulate permitting and location of fracking wells and related development. She received $8,000 from Ohio's oil and gas industry, according to Dispatch journalists Darrel Rowland and Jim Siegel. Another concurring justice got $7,200 from oil and gas drillers.
The Dispatch analysis found that, overall, the fossil fuel industry poured close to $1.5 million into the campaign coffers of legislators and other state officials in 2013-14, lending credence to what Justice William O'Neill wrote in his dissenting opinion: "What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive."
"O'Neill is one of the only public figures on Capitol Square who can criticize the influence of campaign contributions and not come off sounding like a hypocrite," Rowland and Siegel write. "He raised only about $5,000 in his 2012 campaign, all from his own pocket. He did not take a single outside campaign contribution."
Referencing the justice's remark, Catherine Turcer, policy analyst for Common Cause-Ohio, told the newspaper: "What I liked about Justice O'Neill's opinion was his willingness to point out the elephant in the room. In this case, the elephant got almost $1.5 million."
Before the 2014 midterm elections, the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice exposed how special interest groups dramatically increased TV ad spending to influence state Supreme Court races in several states, including Ohio.
"Special interest groups have realized that it doesn’t take much money to reshape an entire state court compared to high-cost elections for statewide political offices," Brennan Center counsel Alicia Bannon said last fall. "At the same time, judges are forced to keep pace with deep-pocketed out of state groups instead of ruling on cases. It’s a lose-lose for judges and voters alike."