Originally created 10/31/06

Companies give big in race



ATLANTA - Money poured this month into Georgia's Supreme Court race has sparked new charges of judge-buying.

A group formed by the National Association of Manufacturers pumped $1.3 million into an independent committee seeking the ouster of Justice Carol Hunstein. The money from the group, American Justice Partnership of Washington, D.C., is nearly twice as much as Justice Hunstein had raised from 1,500 donors since her campaign began this year.

But the corporate money didn't go into the campaign coffers of her opponent, Mike Wiggins. It went, instead, into an independent Georgia campaign committee with no legal limit on contribution size, Safety & Prosperity Coalition, run by lobbyist Eric Dial.

The coalition filed its report Sunday afternoon, and by Monday morning it had generated new allegations that Mr. Wiggins' supporters were trying to buy a seat on the court.

Dan Pero, the president of the Justice Partnership, says that's not the case: Businesses merely want to participate in the electoral process for judges the way the legal community has for years.

"If you want to talk about somebody buying somebody, you have to look at her support. It's Lawyers Inc.," he said.

On Justice Hunstein's most recent report of donations, all but 48 of the 551 individuals listing occupations were lawyers.

Also Monday, the coalition filed an ethics complaint against Justice Hunstein for taking contributions from two contributors over the $5,000 limit, but sought to withdraw it later when Mr. Dial learned from a reporter that Justice Hunstein planned to refund the overage.

She still has a complaint filed against Mr. Wiggins' campaign and the coalition, contending the two improperly cooperated on designing their campaigns.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com .