Apr 02 2013
The Texas Tribune reported on a study by San Diego State University political science professor Madhavi McCall that analyzed the relationship between judicial decisions and campaign contributions in 530 Texas Supreme Court over period lasting more than three years. “In every instance,” professor McCall said, “the probability of a party garnering votes increases if the party contributed to a given justice’s campaign.”
But most judges and justices are adamant that campaign contributions never affect their rulings. Some even suggest that donations from law firms and other attorneys, rather than inspire concerns about impartiality, should instead be perceived as indicators of quality.
“People who are not qualified cannot raise the money it takes,” according to Texas Justice Debra Lehrman.
It’s hard not to view this as something of a self-serving philosophy.
There’s perhaps even a small thread of cynicism among the justices about the capability of voters to even know what they’re voting for. “Voters insist they want the right to elect their judges,” Supreme Court Justice Don Willett says in the Tribune article. “Ask them to name one, and they’ll likely come up blank. But they want a voice, even as they say that judicial fundraising raises appearance concerns.”
An article from the Wisconsin Isthmus
reports on the money pouring into the Supreme Court campaigns of Ed Fallone and incumbent Pat Roggensack. Filings with the Government Accountability Board show that the candidates for Supreme Court took in a combined $530,000 between February 5 and March 18, and together have raised nearly nearly $900,000.
This figure does not include the money spent on “issue advertisements,” which do not count as direct contributions. The article reports that a single organization, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, placed $300,000 worth of ads during the primary election, and has since spent an additional $146,000 in Milwaukee alone on the general election. Roggenback has also enjoyed the support of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and Fallone has enjoyed significant donations from unions.
And though the election is officially nonpartisan, the state Republican party has given multiple donations to Roggensack, and local Democratic groups have donated to Fallone’s campaign.
Obviously, any justice or judge is going to take his or her ideology to the bench, at least to some degree. But with high-cost judicial elections, we are getting judges who can only reach the bench based on advertised ideologies and political alliances, not their actual qualifications or experience.
The amounts spent on judicial elections keep increasing, and a judicial candidate needs only to be a good political investment, not necessarily good judge, in order to even have a shot. Unless we do something to reverse this trend, the noise of expensive campaigning will drown out everything else.