justice for sale

SUMMARIES OF SELECTED STUDIES: Findings on who usually wins judicial races, the amount of money involved and its sources, and the public's perception of judges.

home
how bad is it?
my state
history
selecting judges
video
discussion

The parts of the country covered in these studies are:

· Los Angeles County
· Illinois
· Louisiana
· North Carolina
· Ohio
· Pennsylvania
· Texas

THE PRICE OF JUSTICE: A LOS ANGELES AREA CASE STUDY IN JUDICIAL CAMPAIGN FINANCING

(California Commission on Campaign Financing-1995)

Report was written by the California Commission on Campaign Financing, a private, non-profit organization formed in 1984. Focus of the report was 1976 to 1994. The Commission interviewed dozens of judges, campaign consultants and academic experts and examined literature on judicial elections.

At time of report, Los Angeles County was home of 9.2 million people, 3.6 million registered voters.

The Commission identified four problems:

· The controversial races create pressure to raise more money.

· Candidates are forced to solicit campaign contributions from lawyers and litigants.

· Candidates are the largest contributors to the campaigns, leaving them in debt.

· Given the scale of the voting population, candidates lack sufficient money to inform the voters of their merits. Given the nature of the judicial elections, voters lack clues to gage the merits of individual candidates, such as party affiliations, committee assignments, voting records, press releases or policy positions.

The Commission made the following findings:

· Incumbents easily donate spending and win nearly every time. In the Superior Court contest between 1988-1994, incumbents outspent challengers $55,000 to $29,000 in median expenditures. In the same period, municipal court winners spent a median amount of $48,000, compared to $18,000 for losers.

· 1976 median expenditure by a superior court candidate was about $3,000. By. 1994, the figure was $70,000. Median incumbent spending jumped 95 fold, from just over $1,000 in 1976 to nearly $95,000 in 1994.

· 46% of total campaign dollars raised in Los Angeles County superior court races comes from the candidates' own purses.

· 45% of total outside contributions come from attorneys.

The Commission made the following recommendations:

· Contributions to any one judicial candidate from individuals, corporations, labor unions, organizations, and PACs should be limited to $500 per election.

· Judicial candidates should all be given a conditional right to print a free statement in the official countywide voters' pamphlet .


FUNDING JUDICIAL CAMPAIGNS IN ILLINOIS

77 Judicature 294(1994)
Marlene Arnold Nicholson and Norman Nicholson

Authors studied funding for judicial races from 1980 to 1990, comparing selected data from recent supreme, appellate, and trial court elections to an earlier comprehensive study of the 1980 through 1984 elections.

The study made the following findings:

· Many judicial elections in Illinois are not real contests. Often, candidates who could not lose received the most contributions. Similarly, candidates sure to lose but sitting as judges at the time of the contribution also received many contributions.

· Small number of candidates raising funds in retention elections suggests fundraising practices for such elections do not currently raise substantial problems.

· Unlike the retention campaigns, partisan elections of supreme court and appellate judges involved active fundraising. All but one of 12 candidates between 1980 and 1990 reported raising funds, with the highest sums being just under $200,000. There was a modest increase in contributions to successful appellate campaigns from approximately $36,000 in 1984 to $40,000 in 1990.

· In 1988, candidates unopposed in both primary and general elections raised an average of $17,225. Some of this fundraising occurred before the filing deadline--when the candidate did not know if there would be opposition.

· In the general elections, more was contributed where only one party had a realistic opportunity to win than where elections were more contested. This included "sure winners" and also included "sure losers" who were sitting as judges at the time of the solicitation.

· Attorneys were the largest single source of contributions for nearly all Judicial campaigns, with higher proportions in the retention elections. Contributions in excess of $1000 were extremely rare.


JUDICIAL CAMPAIGN FINANCING AND MERIT SELECTION

Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (1996).

Public Resources Council of Louisiana, Inc. (PAR) examined all judicial elections at the district court level and above from 1990 to 1994 and closely analyzed individual contributions for four selected races.

The study made the following findings:

· 61% of Louisiana judges win election without voter approval. Under Louisiana law, an unopposed candidate automatically wins, and the candidate's name simply does not appear on the ballot.

· 78° of contested elections were won by the contestant who spent the most money. The average winner spent $438,000 for the supreme court, $194,000 for the court of appeal, and $77,000 for the district court. On average winners spent 70% more and incurred 75% more debt: than their closest challengers.

· Winning judges often end elections with large campaign debts. As of February 1995 winning candidates from 1990-1994 with debt had an average outstanding debt of $47,081--ranging from $1,184 to $373,800. Losing candidates had average debt of $27,260. Several judges were still soliciting contributions three years after the campaign. On average, more than 60% of debt was personal loans from the candidate to the campaign.

· Judicial incumbents were rarely challenged (less than 20%) or defeated (6%).

· In three of the four closely scrutinized campaigns, lawyers provided approximately two-thirds of the contributions. The winners of three of the four received a majority of lawyer contributions in their races. The exception was the 1994 Supreme Court election, which received considerable attention in medical and business groups.

· About half the lawyers contributing were plaintiffs' lawyers, but they gave about 63% of the amount contributed by lawyers.

· Plaintiffs' lawyers provided about 40% of the total contributions to all candidates from all sources in the four elections.

· Identifiable contributions from non-lawyer PACs, business and the medical profession ranged from about 14% to 30% of funding for all candidates.

The study made the following recommendations:

· Adopt merit selection of judges, at least for Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges.

· Put all judicial elections on the ballot.

· Limit fundraising period and limit campaign surpluses.


PAC PARTICIPATION IN NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT ELECTIONS

80 Judicature 21 (1996) Traciel V. Reid

Study focused on four North Carolina Supreme Court elections between 1986 and 1994 as vehicle for evaluating participation of PACs in judicial elections.

The study made the following findings:

· PAC involvement in judicial races is increasing for these reasons: elections are becoming more expensive; states are evolving politically from one party to two party states, movement of federal responsibilities to states enhances policy making power of state appellate judges. From 1986 to 1994, the number of PACs rose from 8 to 29.

· The 1986 election was highly politicized. Republicans focused on the death penalty and Democrats focused on judicial independence and integrity in judicial selection. Total contributions to Supreme Court candidates from all sources was $395,397. PAC contributions made up 4 .5% of total contributions.

· 1990 and 1992 campaigns were lower profile. Total contributions from all sources was $263,404 and $116,516, respectively. PAC contributions amounted to 11% in 1990 and 2.6% in 1992.

· In 1994, a highly publicized campaign was waged for a vacant associate judgeship. Total contributions from all sources was $514,449, 8.4% of which came from PACs.

· The biggest PAC contributor to Supreme Court campaigns was the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, representing plaintiffs' lawyers. Its typical contribution was $4,000 and total contributions for the period studied were $48,000.

· In 1994, business PACs increased in number, and combined to give more money to their candidates than the trial lawyer PAC.

· Only four law firm PACs funded candidates during the study--for a total of $3,500.

· PAC strategy is traditionally risk averse--Sanding expected winner, and tending towards incumbents. This differed in these judicial elections, as in three of eleven races PACs contributed more to challengers than to incumbents. This divergence from expected PAC behavior may be explained by the changing balance of power between the political parties That is, as the Republicans gain power statewide, Republican judicial candidates, including challengers, will continue to garner more PAC support.


 REPORT OF THE CITIZENS' COMMITTEE ON JUDICIAL ELECTIONS

(1995)

Citizens Committee on Judicial Elections was established by Chief Justice Moyer to conduct top-to-bottom review of Ohio's judicial election system in Spring, 1994. An effort was made for a broad perspective--majority of Committee were not attorneys. The Committee's .work was premised on underlying assumption that although judges run for office like other officials, they are different from other politicians, and are held to a higher standard. The Committee conducted hearings, commissioned a poll, met with broad array of experts and interested parties and reviewed research.

The Committee made the following findings:

· Nine out of ten Ohioans believe that judicial decisions are affected by political contributions, and the public clearly questions the impartiality of a judge who sits on a case involving a campaign contributor.

· 56% of Ohioans favor spending limits for judicial elections.

· 45% support contribution limits.

· 45% want more reporting requirements.

· 9% favor public financing.

The Committee proposed the following reforms of campaign conduct:

· Compulsory uniform candidate questionnaire concerning candidate qualifications.

· Changes in speech limitations on candidates

· Compulsory campaign ethics training for candidates.

· Encouragement of voluntary campaign monitoring groups.

· Clarification of candidate's ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the campaign.

· Expedited and enhanced enforcement and sanctions mechanisms.

The Committee proposed the following reforms of campaign finance:

· Campaign contribution limits (including in-kind contributions and loans) of $500 from individuals and $2500 for organizations (doubled for the Supreme Court).

· Imposition of recusal requirement for judges in cases involving attorneys or parties from whom judge received a significant contribution.

· Limitations on fundraising periods.

· Ban on contributions from court appointees.

· Ban on tiered fundraising events.

· Elimination of campaign surpluses.

· Increased disclosure requirements including full identification of each donor and rapid reporting in the 20 days before an election.

· Limitations on receipt of funds from political parties.


REPORT OF THE SPECIAL COMMISSION TO LIMIT CAMPAIGN EXPENDITURES

(1998)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed this Special Commission to determine whether public perception of judicial elections had caused a loss of respect for the judiciary in Pennsylvania and, if so, what if anything might be done by the Supreme Court to ameliorate this problem. The Special Commission conducted public hearings, met with officials involved in reform efforts outside Pennsylvania, and conducted a telephone poll of 500 Pennsylvania citizens margin of error +/-4.4%.

The Special Commission made the following findings:

· 59% of Pennsylvanian registered voters thought too much was spent on judicial campaigns. After being informed of amounts actually spent, that figure jumped to 81%.

· 73% thought judicial candidates received too much from large corporations and PACs. 66% thought they received too much from wealthy individuals. 64% thought they received too much from insurance companies and their PACs. 62% thought they received too much from lawyers and lawyer organizations.

· 88% thought judges' courtroom decisions were influenced at least some of the time by campaign contributions, 37% thought it was most or all of the time.

· 75% thought people and organizations who can afford to make large contributions have more influence in electing judges.

· 64% believed that limiting campaign contributions would improve honesty and integrity in judicial elections.

· 59% strongly favored a $1000 cap contributions to judicial campaigns from individuals; 61% strongly favored a $5000 limit on contributions from organizations or PACs.

· 65% strongly favored reporting of contributions over $100.

· 52% strongly favored a spending limit.

· 46% strongly favored public funding for candidates who did not accept contributions.

· Voters strongly believe that amount spent on campaigns threatens integrity and fairness of elections and judicial rulings. Voters believe special interest contributions dominate ordinary voters. Voters believe the money problem is growing worse. Voters believe contributors expect and receive something for their contributions.

· Voters are more anxious about the judiciary than about other elected offices.

· There is little demographic, geographic, or partisan variation in voters' attitudes on these issues.

The Special Commission made the following recommendations:

· Contribution limits including $1,000/individual, $5,000/legal entity for statewide races.

· Expenditure limits, including $1,000,000 for Supreme Court office, $500,000 for Superior Court and Commonwealth Court office, and $250,000 for Court of Common Pleas.

· Expedited disclosure, accessible on web page designed by the court's administrative office.

· Mandatory recusal of judges in cases where opposing party or counsel has contributed above the limits.

· Public education and enforcement enhancements.


CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS IN TEXAS SUPREME COURT RACES

17 Crime, Law & Social Change 91 (1992)
Anthony Champagne

Study analyzed financing of the 1988 Texas Supreme Court races--identified as "probably the most expensive partisan judicial election campaign [dotlessi]n history." Unusual circumstances led to two-thirds of Texas Supreme Court justices' seats being at issue in 1988.

The study made the following findings:

· Three of the four elections From 1982 to 1988 involved at least one million dollar campaign. The 1988 election involved two campaigns each spending more than two million dollars.

· Total contributions to the 1988 general election's twelve candidates were $10,092,955. Including unsuccessful primary candidates the total contributions were $10,374,442.

· The campaigns for the Criminal Court of Appeal involve substantially less expensive campaigns: a $100,000 race is considered expensive. Most expensive of these campaigns was $524,137.

· For 1987 and several earlier campaigns, eight Texas firms or lawyers contributed 17.7% of all funds. All but one of the firms were plaintiffs' firms. Three contributed over $200,000 each.

· Breadth of support varied. Justice Phillips had the broadest support base, with only 11.2% of his contributions from his top ten contributors. His opponent received 22.8% of his contributions from 10 law firms. Others obtained as much as 31.9% from the top ten contributors. Several candidates received their largest contributions From their prior law firms.

· The overall top ten contributors to the races contributed $1,414,021 or 13.6% of all contributions. '

· The top 20 contributors gave 20.7% of the total.

· The top 50 law firms and the Texas Medical Association (TMA) contributed over one-third of all contributions.

· The Fund for Democratic Texas raised 51.4 million, mostly from plaintiffs' lawyers.

· The PAC for the TMA gave $181,355. The TMA also encouraged doctors to contribute directly, which resulted in estimated contributions of $250,000 or more.



home · how bad is it? · what's happening in my state? · how did we come to elect judges?
how should judges be selected? · video · quiz
discussion · links · synopsis · press · tapes · funding · teachers' guide
frontline · pbs online · wgbh

some images copyright © 1999 photodisc all rights reserved
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS