Apr 08 2014
The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), striking down aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates and party committees. Although the focus of this ruling was on federal election law, it has serious implications of state campaigns as well, particularly state judicial campaigns.
As a result of this ruling, individuals no longer have to pick and choose which campaigns to give to and whether to give to national parties at all, for fear of hitting their aggregate contribution limit. Now individual donors can give the maximum contribution to their national party and as many candidates as they want. With this increased money going to national parties, state party committees will most likely also see an increase in donations. It is this increase to state party coffers that will augment the already insidious effect of money in selecting judges.
In addition to the new money this ruling allows to flow into judicial campaigns, it also establishes a framework through which big spenders may challenge state campaign finance laws, and infuse even more money into judicial elections. The Supreme Court couched its decision on first amendment principles. The plaintiff successfully argued that the FEC’s aggregate limits on political contributions infringed on his right to free speech. So although this particular ruling only applies to federal elections, freedom of speech is a right that all citizens enjoy. Any states with similar limits in their campaign finance laws have officially been put on notice.
The amount of money that will flow into judicial races as a result of this ruling makes it more important than ever that Pennsylvania change its judicial selection model. We need to protect the integrity of the judiciary by eliminating the perception that justice is for sale. We can do this if we choose to select our judges based on merit, not money.