There's widespread evidence to support the proposition that money determines the outcome of an election, but that notion could be turned on its head when Louisiana voters decide whether to repeal the state's outlier law allowing nonunanimous jury verdicts in felony cases.
A proposed constitutional amendment to require unanimous jury verdicts in felony trials is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Many consider it the most important question to be decided that day.
The only statewide contest on the ballot — other than six proposed constitutional amendments and a parish-by-parish referendum to allow online fantasy sports wagering — is the special election for secretary of state, and that one's been a yawner so far.
The nonunanimous jury proposition appears on the ballot as Amendment No. 2. It needed two-thirds approval of the state Legislature, which is a tall order for anything in the Capitol's hyper-partisan environment these days. That a measure clearly identified as "criminal justice reform" was able to garner overwhelming — and bipartisan — support in both the state House and Senate was truly remarkable.
Equally impressive is the diverse coalition that has lined up behind Amendment 2. It includes staunch conservatives like brothers Charles and David Koch (and their influential Americans for Prosperity group), Grover Norquist (and his anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform) and the Louisiana Family Forum, led by the Rev. Gene Mills — and an equally prominent array of liberals, along with business and civic leaders. Louisiana's Republican and Democratic parties are supporting it as well.
What's really impressive is the money pouring into the state in support of the proposition. John Kay, Louisiana director for Americans for Prosperity, says the Koch brothers' organization plans to spend more than $100,000 to promote the initiative.
That's not unusual; conservative groups often pump big dollars into favored campaigns. What sets the "Yes on Two" movement apart is the amount of money raining down from liberal groups. According to recent campaign finance reports, more than $1 million will come from three such groups. The Open Society Foundations, founded by billionaire George Soros, is ponying up $420,000; FWD.us, a lobbying outfit whose founders include Microsoft's Bill Gates and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, has given $300,000; and the Advocacy Fund, a California-based liberal advocacy group, put up more than $300,000 in direct and in-kind donations.
All told, supporters will spend at least $1.5 million trying to change Louisiana's split-jury rule, but that doesn't mean passage is likely. While no organized opposition has surfaced, Louisiana's grandstander-in-chief, Attorney General Jeff Landry, has voiced opposition to changing the law.
Landry offers no evidence to support his position, but he could derail the amendment nonetheless if he campaigns against it. Anything dealing with crime triggers an emotional response from voters, most of whom are unaware that Louisiana is one of only two states that jail people after nonunanimous verdicts. Even fewer appear to know that the rule was put in place expressly to deny black citizens equal access to justice.
Hopefully, bipartisan political and financial support will trump selfish ambition and demagoguery. A lot more than money is riding on this one.