You Asked: Campaign Contributions and the Johnson Child Sex Assault Case
Several readers and observers of the Curt Johnson child sex assault case have asked Patch if the judge should have disclosed that his campaign received a donation from the Johnson family. We tried to find out.
With Curt Johnson’s child sex assault trial off the calendar this week, Patch looked into one of the frequently-asked-questions surrounding the case: Should the judge have disclosed that Johnson’s mother donated to his campaign?
Johnson, one of the billionaire heirs of the SC Johnson family, is charged with repeated sexual assault of the same child. His trial was scheduled to begin Monday morning, but Gasiorkiewicz adjourned it. With the trial delayed, Patch looked into the issue.
Online campaign finance records show Imogene Johnson donated $100 to the Gene for Judge campaign committee in March 2010. The records are available through the Wisconsin Campaign Finance Information System.
Patch asked Gasiorkiewicz about the donation, and his decision not to disclose it in court.
"I know that Imogene Johnson gave $100, but I'm not aware of any other family members who might have donated," Gasiorkiewicz told Patch when we called. "The donations are public information, but the amount is so small that I don't think it needed to be disclosed."
In court Monday the judge mentioned getting criticism for revising the conditions of Curt Johnson's bond in August 2011. At that hearing, Gasiorkiewicz changed Johnson’s bond, allowing him to travel to Arizona for treatment, around the country for business and to see his wife in North Carolina. He also said Johnson and his family were known to the court.
When Patch asked him for comment about those statements, he said he couldn't discuss an open case.
Attorneys from both sides in the Johnson case did not return calls seeking comment on this issue.
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Charles Constantine, who once presided over a civil case involving SC Johnson, said it's not a bad idea to be open, especially if one of the parties involved in the case donated the individual maximum of $1,000. Since judicial candidates are not able to openly solicit donations and have to go through a campaign committee, he said, chances are a judge may not know every name on his or her campaign donation list.
This becomes a more practical concern when someone is running for the bench for the first time, Constantine said. Because that person is usually coming from private practice, chances are greater that campaign contributions will come from fellow attorneys who will find themselves one day in front of the judicial candidate.
"Most judges self-finance their campaigns," Constantine added. "But it's never a bad idea to state for the record that a party involved in a case donated. The general rule of thumb is to take a look at the case and decide if you can be fair and impartial. The answer to that is usually 'yes' because of the minimus contributions."
Campaign finance reports show that Gasiorkiewicz and his opponent for the 2010 election, Georgia Herrera, both contributed the lion's share of their campaign funds, primarily through loans from themselves to the campaign committee.