updated 8/31/2012, 8:00 a.m.
LANSING - Incumbent Michigan Supreme Court Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra have significant campaign finance advantages over other candidates for this year's election, according to pre-convention reports filed with the Michigan Bureau of Elections.
Justice Markman's campaign has raised $406,409 and had a fund balance of $343,479, as of August 23rd. Justice Zahra's campaign has raised $402.034 and a fund balance of $324,679. Each campaign listed in-kind contributions of $4,393, representing contributions to cover overhead of 18 joint fundraising events held by the justices.
In the contest for the third Republican nomination for the Supreme Court, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Colleen O'Brien has a wide financial advantage over Court of Appeals Judge Jane Markey. Judge O'Brien's campaign has raised $155,103 and has $82,409 on hand. Judge Markey has raised just $5,056 and reports debt of $5,069.
Among the Democratic nominees, University of Michigan law professor Bridget Mary McCormack's campaign reports that it has raised $317,830 and has 205,096 on hand, as of August 24th. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Connie Kelley's campaign reports that it has raised $151,565 with a fund balance of $65,450, and Oakland County District Judge Shelia Johnson's campaign has raised $55,116 and has $48,763 on hand.
Although the candidates with superior financial backing normally win Michigan Supreme Court elections, it is not always the case. When now-Justice Diane Hathaway defeated then-Chief Justice Clifford Taylor in 2008, her campaign raised $752,000, compared to Taylor's record-setting $1.9 million. Total spending that year favored Taylor, $4.8 million to $2.7 million.
When the partisan majority on the court is at stake, as it is this year, spending by non-candidate committees typically overshadows the candidates by a wide margin. In the 2010 election, the candidate committees accounted for only $2.6 million of the total spending of $11.4 million. Of total spending in 2010, $6.3 million paid for undisclosed television "issue" advertising. Now-Justice Mary Beth Kelly was the top vote-getter, even though her campaign committee never bought a television ad in that campaign that was dominated by television.
"These figures give us a first glimpse at the campaign ahead," said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, "but I think we should expect a campaign that is dominated by independent spending, most of which will not be traceable to its source."
Top contributors to the respective campaigns are shown in the accompanying tables.