The anti-Kilbride campaign produced probably the most outrageous ad of the entire 2010 judicial election season. Dressed in orange jumpsuits, actors posing as convicted criminal recounted the grisly details of their crimes, and then said that Justice Thomas Kilbride had taken their side and voted against law enforcement and victims.
These “soft on crime” ads, widely condemned as misleading, were financed by groups focused solely on civil lawsuit awards. According to state campaign finance records, the Illinois Civil Justice League—a major player in a record-shattering 2004 election between Lloyd Karmeier and Gordon Maag—spent $688,000. Most of the League’s money came from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($150,000), a National Association of Manufacturers spinoff group ($180,000), and the American Tort Reform Association ($89,000).
Justice Kilbride fought back against his critics, and aired an advertisement in which he said, “As a judge, I’ve tried every day to be fair and evenhanded, and most of all, to make sure the law works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well connected.” According to campaign filing records, Kilbride raised about $2.8 million, much of it from the state Democratic Party.
In the months leading up to the election, the Illinois Democratic Party received more than $1.5 million from major plaintiffs’ law firms—almost the same amount it then contributed to Kilbride. The law firms included many that also spent heavily in the 2004 Karmeier-Maag race, in which a total of $9.3 million was raised. Among the biggest players were: Clifford Law Offices ($125,000 to the state Democrats in 2010, $150,000 in 2004); Power, Rogers & Smith ($125,000 in 2010, $200,000 in 2004); Cooney and Conway ($125,000 in 2010, $140,000 in 2004); and Corboy & Demetrio ($100,000 in 2010, $100,000 in 2004).
Justice Kilbride was retained on November 2, as were Justices Charles Freeman and Robert Thomas, who faced no organized opposition. Kilbride’s race was the most expensive retention election ever in Illinois, and the second costliest ever nationally (behind only the 1986 retention election ouster of California Chief Justice Rose Bird and two fellow justices). Kilbride raised more money in one election than the $2.2 million raised by candidates in all retention elections, nationally, from 2000–2009.