Washington, D.C. — Today the Center for American Progress released a new report, “Public Financing of Judicial Races Can Give Small Donors a Decisive Role,” which recommends public financing as a new solution for limiting corporate influence in judicial elections.
In 2012 a record $27.8 million was spent in state supreme court races—money from corporations, lawyers, and others with a stake in cases before these courts—but CAP’s new report finds that public financing can help states drastically change the pool of campaign funds on which judicial candidates rely. By vastly broadening the base of potential contributors through small-donor matching systems, public-financing programs can also make courts more diverse and give challengers a better chance at defeating incumbents.
The report highlights New York City’s public financing system as an example of the policy’s potential to make small donors play a decisive role in judicial elections. The New York City program offers six-to-one matching funds for donations of up to $175, meaning that a $175 donation becomes a $1,225 donation. The system has also successfully helped make the pool of campaign donors more representative of the city’s population. Candidates no longer rely solely on wealthy contributors and instead receive most of their donations from middle-class and working-class donors who are matched by public funds.
The report’s recommendation to implement viable public financing programs comes in the context of the consequences of explosive growth in judicial campaign cash. North Carolina, for example, saw its existing public financing system overwhelmed as the Republican State Leadership Committee donated a whopping $1.2 million to help state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby win reelection. The conservative group sought to influence the election because of its stake in a case before the court challenging a recent redistricting map that the organization helped to draft but which a civil rights group alleged would disenfranchise minority voters. The committee’s tremendous campaign contributions ensured Justice Newby’s reelection and jeopardized the impartiality of the court. Instead of working on behalf of all North Carolinians, Justice Newby was indebted to a partisan special interest.
Public-financing systems based on small-donor matching would magnify the impact of small donations, meaning that rather than being responsive to corporations and lawyers with significant funds, judges would be beholden to ordinary citizens making small donations. This would be an important step toward a justice system that works for all citizens, not just those with money to spend influencing the law.
- Strong Recusal Rules Are Crucial to Judicial Integrity by Billy Corriher
- Merit Selection and Retention Elections Keep Judges Out of Politics by Billy Corriher
- Partisan Judicial Elections and the Distorting Influence of Campaign Cash by Billy Corriher
- Disclosure Laws Needed to Ensure Transparency in Judicial Elections by Billy Corriher
To speak to CAP experts on this issue, please contact Madeline Meth at firstname.lastname@example.org.