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In 2004, one of the most expensive judicial races in the country took place in Illinois. Judge Lloyd Karmeier wound up winning the election, and became a member of the Illinois Supreme Court. State Farm Insurance was one of the contributors to Karmeier’s successful campaign. In 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court had a case on their docket involving a $1 billion dollar judgment against State Farm. Karmeier, along with the majority, voted to overturn the $1 billion judgment that a lower court made against State Farm.
Why didn’t Karmeier recuse himself? Well, the Court was aware that Karmeier had received campaign contributions from State Farm. When he declined to recuse himself from the case, the Court investigated whether there was potential bias. The Illinois Supreme Court questioned State Farm about campaign contributions to Karmeier. State Farm told the Court that they had donated $350,000 to the Karmeier campaign. The Supreme Court was satisfied that they found no bias, and the case came before the Court, at which point the $1 billion verdict was overturned.
Now, an FBI investigation has shown that State Farm actually donated between $2.4 and $4 million dollars to Karmeier’s campaign. Karmeier, after these millions of dollars streamlined his path to the State Supreme Court bench, voted to overturn a $1 billion verdict against his new corporate benefactor. It is very likely that, had the Supreme Court known that State Farm’s contributions to Karmeier’s campaign had been so enormous, he would not have been allowed to sit in judgment on the case. But State Farm lied to the Court, disclosing only around one-tenth of their actual contributions. The possibility that Karmeier heard this case impartially, after receiving millions of dollars from State Farm only months before, seems unlikely. In light of these facts, several attorneys have filed a class action suit against State Farm for defrauding the Supreme Court of Illinois. They are also seeking to have the Court reconsider its decision to overturn the $1 billion verdict. That decision now seems suspect, to say the least.
This case can also be seen as a glimpse of things to come on the national level, in the wake of the Citizens United decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that corporations can donate unlimited funds (anonymously) to campaigns, we may never know who our politicians are shilling for again. We will be safe to assume, though, that they won’t be representing the interests of “We, the People”.