Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Video Shows Human Impact of Big Money Infiltrating Judicial Elections
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Video Shows Human Impact of Big Money Infiltrating Judicial Elections

Washington, D.C. — Today marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United​ decision, which struck down limits on corporations’ spending on political ads and unleashed a wave of campaign spending on judicial elections. The Center for American Progress released a video today detailing how the elimination of public financing in North Carolina—which led to an unprecedented $4 million in campaign contributions during the state’s 2014 high court election—has potentially disastrous implications for the impartiality of the judiciary and potentially life-threatening impacts on victims seeking legal recourse through the courts.

Specifically, the video features one family’s story of how Duke Energy’s catastrophic coal ash spill in North Carolina’s Dan River in 2014 has jolted their community, revealing how the community’s drinking water was exposed to dangerous toxins. As highlighted in the video, since state and federal governments have failed to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, citizens must rely on the court system to address the catastrophic environmental and health damages caused by coal ash pollution. 

Until last year’s election, North Carolina’s public financing program mitigated the impact of Citizens United on judicial elections by giving candidates the option to avoid raising money from wealthy donors. A recent CAP report found a troubling correlation between North Carolina Supreme Court rulings and the success rates of firms that donated large amounts of money to judicial candidates following the repeal of the state’s public financing system. The repeal of public financing also raises concerns about corporate influence in judicial races—including corporate polluters such as Duke Energy, which currently has billions of dollars at stake in North Carolina courts over its responsibility to keep toxic coal ash out of the state’s drinking water.

“The repeal of North Carolina’s public financing program allows corporate polluters and other special interests to contaminate judicial elections with campaign cash in an effort to stack the courts in their favor,” said Michele Jawando, Vice President of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress. “This is an issue that should concern us all, and CAP’s video sheds light on the real human impact of special-interest money infiltrating our court system. In a post-Citizens United era, it is imperative that we protect our courts—and, more importantly, the public’s trust in the impartiality of judges—from big-money influence.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court also heard oral arguments in the case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, which challenges the constitutionality of limitations on state judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign funds and which could expose state-level judicial races to a flood of special-interest campaign contributions. Although North Carolina is not one of the 30 states involved in Williams-Yulee, the influx of campaign cash into the state’s judicial elections exemplifies the potential effect that could be seen nationwide if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down rules that ban judicial candidates from directly soliciting campaign contributions.

View the video: Dirty Water, Dirty Money: Coal Ash and the Attack on North Carolina’s Courts by Lauren Malkani, Billy Corriher, and Sean Wright

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For more information or to speak to an expert on this topic, contact Chelsea Kiene at [email protected] or 202.478.5328.