Money in State Judicial Elections


What’s the price of justice? Over the last decade, state supreme court candidates raised over $200 million for their elections, two-and-a-half times the $83 million they raised during 1990-1999, according to newly released report. The need to raise ever-increasing amounts of money prompted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to warn of a real and growing “crisis of confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary” in her foreword to “The New Politics of Judicial Elections: 2000-2009.”

With big contributors appearing before the judges they helped elect — the top 5 “super spenders” in 29 elections spent an average of $473,000 each — it is no surprise that nearly half of state judges polled in 2001 agree that campaign donations influence judicial decisions. Three-quarters of American share their concerns.

We only know part of the money story. Millions of dollars have flowed into judicial elections “in ways crafted to avoid financial disclosure even as they seek to sway judicial contests,” according to the report. Challenges to campaign disclosure laws, the use of shell entities to funnel funds, and the recent decision in Citizens United to allow unlimited corporate expenditures all work to obscure the full picture.

The report’s authors — Adam Skaggs and Jonathan Blitzer at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, James Sample of Hofstra University School of Law, Charlie Hall at Justice at Stake Campaign, and Linda Casey at National Institute on Money in State Politics — have constructed an an incredible reference document that does a superior job of putting spending on state judicial elections in context. Don’t miss their index of state supreme court TV advertisements and state-by-state contribution and expenditure profiles.

Although not part of the report, more on state-by-state and candidate-by-candidate contributions is available for download at, a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the Center for Responsive Politics. On the site you can search by contributor, recipient, year, and many other factors to learn about the state of judicial elections in your state. Sample search results are available on the left.

Full disclosure: the Sunlight Foundation works with the three organizations that sponsored this report.