Readers and leaders across the country are getting a chance to learn more about surging special-interest spending in state judicial elections. Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, released Thursday, is getting widespread media attention, especially in states that saw the most expensive races.
Report co-authors Scott Greytak of Justice at Stake and Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School interpreted the findings in a Huffington Post commentary titled, “Money Flooding State Court Elections Threatens the Promise of Equal Justice.” They wrote: “Special interest money is flooding into our state Supreme Court elections, gravely threatening the impartial justice that our Constitution promises — and raising troubling questions about whether courtroom decisions are for sale.” The National Institute on Money in State Politics also joined in writing Bankrolling the Bench.
In other national news media, Politico summed up the report, saying, “Outside spending by PACs, 501(c)(4)s and other interest groups rose to a record 29 percent of total spending, or $10.1 million, in 2013-14 judicial elections,” according to JAS and its two partner organizations. And Public Citizen blogged, “Bankrolling the Bench: New Report Demonstrates Need for SEC to Require Political Spending Disclosure.”
The report documented eight states that had judicial elections where spending surpassed $1 million each: Michigan, $9,518,353.16, North Carolina, $6,005,983.61, Texas, $3,664,247.77, Illinois, $3,352,951.47, Ohio, $3,261,542.12, Tennessee, $2,515,395.59, Wisconsin, $1,831,677.83, and Montana, $1,503,521.98. In Illinois and Tennessee, the races were retention (yes-or-no) elections.
Initial media coverage in the states focused on the big spending, on special interest money and on candidate fundraising. Examples included Michigan Radio, “Michigan’s Supreme Court elections were the most expensive in the country“; in North Carolina, The Progressive Pulse, “New report shows judicial fundraising skyrocketing after end of public financing” and Triangle Business Journal, “North Carolina No. 2 in judicial election spending, report says“; in Ohio, Columbus Dispatch (blog), “French second in U.S. in high-court fundraising“; and Crain’s Chicago Business (blog), “Illinois Supreme Court race drew highest share of outside cash in U.S.“
Other coverage came from Peoria Public Radio, WUIS about Illinois, The Bozeman (Mt.) Daily Chronicle, The (Charlotte, N.C.) News & Observer (blog), The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, and Madison.com.