New Poll: Vast Majority of Voters Fear Campaign Cash Skews Judges' Decisions
87 Percent Say Donations, Ad Money Influence Judges
WASHINGTON, D.C., - A new poll commissioned by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice finds that an overwhelming number of voters believe campaign donations and other special interest spending on judicial elections have an influence on a judge’s decision on the bench. The findings were released today at a National Press Club event highlighting a new report by the groups, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.
“These numbers are the highest we’ve seen in years of polling on this question,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. “Almost 9 in 10 Americans believe that campaign cash is affecting courtroom decisions. They’re worried that justice is for sale.”
“As this poll makes clear, Americans are worried that our fair courts are at risk,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “We need stricter rules for when judges have to step aside from cases, so that judges aren’t hearing cases involving donors who spent large sums getting them elected. We also need stronger disclosure laws so the public knows who is spending money trying to shape our courts.”
The poll asked about campaign donations made directly to judges’ campaigns as well as about “independent spending,” in which outside groups spend their own money on TV ads and other election materials for or against a judicial candidate. A full 87 percent of voters said they believed both kinds of spending have either “some” or “a great deal” of influence on judges’ decisions.
Notably, voters’ concern about independent spending suggests that they do not view this type of spending as any less harmful than money given directly to a judge’s campaign. Independent spending on judicial races by special interest groups hit a record high of $15.4 million in 2011-12, according to The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12 report.
Voters also say that when one party in a court case has either donated directly to a judge’s campaign or spent significantly on election materials designed to help elect the judge, the judge should step aside. A whopping 92 percent of voters expressed this view.
Polling was conducted by 20/20 Insight LLC, which surveyed a representative sample of 1200 registered voters over a period of three days, October 22-24. The margin of error was 2.8%. Click here for polling results.
Click here to access the new report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.
Justice at Stake is a nonpartisan campaign working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom—so judges can protect our Constitution, our rights and the rule of law. Justice at Stake also educates Americans about the role of the courts, promotes diversity on the bench, and supports adequate resources for courts.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution—part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group, part communications hub—the Brennan Center seeks meaningful, measurable change in the systems by which our nation is governed.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics collects, publishes, and analyzes data on campaign money in state elections. The database dates back to the 1990 election cycle for some states and is comprehensive for all 50 states since the 1999–2000 election cycle. The Institute has compiled a 50-state summary of state supreme court contribution data from 1989 through the present, as well as complete, detailed databases of campaign contributions for all state high-court judicial races beginning with the 2000 elections.