Big news popped up last night.

At least two dozen federal judges appointed by President Bush since 2001 made political contributions to key Republicans or to the president himself while under consideration for their judgeships, government records show. A four-month investigation of Bush-appointed judges by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that six appellate court judges and 18 district court judges contributed a total of more than $44,000 to politicians who were influential in their appointments. Some gave money directly to Bush after he officially nominated them. Other judges contributed to Republican campaign committees while they were under consideration for a judgeship.

Sounds shady. Unethical, even. And while there are, unfortunately, no rules about political contributions while under consideration for a judicial appointment, there is one for sitting federal judges:

Political giving while serving on the federal bench is a violation of the official Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. The code says that “A judge should not … solicit funds for or pay an assessment or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate.”

Ohio’s culture of corruption runs deep.

The president selects most federal judges with significant input from U.S. senators of the same party. In Ohio, that process is “totally controlled by party politics,” says Tom Hagel, a professor at the University of Dayton School of Law and a part-time trial judge. “If you don’t have the blessing of the county and state party chairs you can stop right there,” said Hagel, whose brother is Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. “Believe me, they’ve got to get approval all the way up the line.” Hagel says campaign contributions could play into that process, as a demonstration of “how loyal and appreciative” a judicial candidate is. “That certainly has an appearance of impropriety,” he said. “It gives the impression that the senators’ decision-making process could be influenced by money.”

Salon’s report shows a number of influential Republicans have received what appears to amount to bribe money.

Republicans who received money from judges en route to the bench include Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Gov. George Pataki of New York.

Clearly, I think we need some rules governing political donations made by potential candidates for judicial appointments. The appearance of impropriety is stark, and where there is ethical smoke, there is often ethical fire.

In DeWine’s defense, according to the facts as laid out in the article, he appears to have returned donations from sitting federal judges that would violate the aforementioned Code of Conduct. And in at least one case, he returned a donation by a candidate under consideration. But he still supported these judges, despite their efforts to buy his vote.

For those of you with a little spare time, I suggest searching the Ohio Money Tree for donations from judges and candidates for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Let us know what you dig up.

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