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Lori Lipman Brown

Nevada Supreme Court candidate Lori Lipman Brown.

A Las Vegas school teacher wanted to raise awareness about the millions of dollars in special interest money in Nevada Supreme Court races. So she ran for the office and vowed to only take donations of 100 dollars. To the surprise of many, including herself, she garnered nearly 20 percent of the vote in yesterdays primary. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.

SOUND: Lori Lipman Brown Part

PLASKON: Friends of Lori Lipman Brown brought chips and soda to her to watch the primary results roll in on the Secretary of State's web site.

SOUND: Lori Lipman Brown

PLASKON: She's is a former state senator, a high school teacher, a professor of constitutional law . . . and until yesterday, a candidate for Nevada Supreme Court. She told KNPR weeks ago on the phone she had no chance of winning

LIPMAN BROWN: Initially there was no chance of winning I think.

PLASKON: Lipman Brown got into the race after reading how the Nevada Supreme Court race was expected to cost candidates many millions of dollars. She got in it to make a statement that she thought would doom her campaign.

LIPMAN BROWN: It wasn't even an idea that maybe I should even go for this seat. It was more that lets make this issue better known by having someone run without some money.

PLASKON: Lipman Brown vowed to only take donations of up to 100 dollars and by the primary she had only raised 7 thousand dollars. The other three candidates raised 170 times that amount, spending over a million dollars on the primary alone. Nonetheless, Lipman Brown's modest campaign almost made it to the general election, coming up 28-hundred votes short state-wide of business attorney John Mason who spent 700-thousand dollars. She beat Mason in Clark County by more than 10 thousand votes. As an activist Lipman Brown still calls her failed campaign a success because it did raise awareness and many people did vote for her. She's married to Paul Brown of the Progressive Leadership Alliance, a campaign watchdog group. Last year it came out with a report that 80 percent of big donors to candidates for the Nevada Supreme Court have cases before the justices they financed to victory. Paul Brown explains the problem.

BROWN: They had cases before the justices and that just gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

BIXLER: It is not a healthy situation.

PLASKON: Las Vegas Judge James Bixler also calls it a problem, not just in the Supreme Court, but across the judicial spectrum.

BIXLER: No matter how much you try to avoid the appearance of impropriety whatsoever. If I am an attorney when I know my opponent attorney gave him thousands and thousands of dollars, I am going to be nervous. I don't think it is a healthy situation at all.

PLASKON: The appearance of impropriety that exists made Lippmann Brown's campaign platform to reduce the perceived influence of money in judge races a solid one. Other candidates had to address it.

MASON: Lori and I agree that the issue of special interests funding supreme court candidates is something that people should look at.

PLASKON: Candidate for Nevada Supreme Court John Mason has raised and spent the most money.

MASON: My choice in the matter was not to take contributions from special interests. And I feel very comfortable saying to the public that my campaign is independently financed by me and citizens like themselves.

PLASKON: However, campaign finance reports show he has tens of thousands of dollars from special interests such as subcontractors, and media. Mason also loaned himself 300 thousand dollars for the campaign and that loan could also eventually be paid back by special interests according to Paul Brown of the Progressive Leadership Alliance.

BROWN: If you followed up a year later then you did see that they were taking money from who they said they weren't, the special interests.

PLASKON: So far The Progressive Leadership Alliance hasn't come up with a solution to the abundance of money that is clouding the perception of justice in the courts in Nevada. Lori Lipman Brown's solution is to run for office again.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR.