Four out of five voters back stronger disclosure laws for judicial campaigns in state elections, according to the Center for American Progress, which commissioned a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research.
In 2012, a record-setting $29.7 million was spent on TV advertising to influence judicial contests across the nation, the Center said in relying on estimates from Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, and half of that came from non-candidate groups.
Non-profit groups that often do not make public their donors were major spenders on the judicial elections, the Center said, and some states have been working to bring sunlight to hidden campaign contributions or go further and reform judicial elections to reduce the influence of campaign cash.
In Montana, disclosure advocates in the legislature are pushing a ballot measure for greater disclosure. It would require any entities that make expenditures to influence campaigns in the state to disclose that spending and their financial backers (see Gavel Grab).
The CAP-commissioned poll also showed that 68 percent of respondents voiced support for non-partisan judicial elections, and a clear majority of voters favors merit selection systems for picking judges.
The Center noted that in North Carolina, there is a push in the legislature to end nonpartisan judicial elections; and in three states, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, there have been recent efforts to scrap or weaken merit-selection systems.
JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg discussed the legislative efforts in those states in a USA Today op-ed published in March and entitled, “States making it harder to get timely justice” (see Gavel Grab).
Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling in 2010, Brandenburg emphasized the importance of campaign finance disclosure in judicial elections. “States that elect judges should immediately enact strong, real-time reporting laws, so that special-interest spending is forced into the sunlight. Voters have a right to know who is paying to put judges on their courts,” he said. To learn more about the importance of robust disclosure laws, see the JAS issues page on the topic.