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Interest Groups Dominate Judicial Elections, According to Report

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Interest groups' spending in judicial elections has experienced a drastic increase, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

According to an Oct. 27 news release from the Justice at Stake Campaign, one-third of all funds spent on state Supreme Court elections come from non-candidate groups. The amount that non-candidates have spent has increased from $11.5 million to $38 million in 2009-2010.

"The rise in spending by non-candidate groups means that many judicial candidates have become bystanders in their own campaigns, watching the action from the sidelines," said Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice. "We expect judges to be impartial and fair. Now with campaign laws weakening, citizens understandably worry that justice is for sale."

The release additionally stated that approximately 40 percent of all funds spent on these judicial races came from 10 groups, which included national special interest groups and political parties.  

"Though outside groups paid for only 40 percent of total ads, they were responsible for three in four attack ads," the release states.

Dubbed The New Politics of Judicial Elections, the study was conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The organizations compared contributions of special interest "super spenders" with previous years.

Additionally, the report highlights that $38.4 million was spent on state Supreme Court elections in 2009-10, which the report states is "slightly less" than the $42.7 million spent in 2005-06.

For 2009-10, the most expensive Supreme Court elections took place in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois, according to the report. West Virginia was 12th on the list with approximately $306,447 in candidate fundraising Pennsylvania was No. 1 with $5,424,210.

However, $16.8 million was spent on television advertising, "making 2009-10 the costliest non-presidential election cycle for TV spending in judicial elections."

For total expenditure for television advertisements, West Virginia ranked 13th with $26,060 and 175 total spot counts. All of this money came from the candidate as opposed to political parties or groups, the report states.

"The story of the 2009-10 elections, and their aftermath in state legislatures in 2011, reveals a coalescing national campaign that seeks to intimidate America's state judges into becoming accountable to money and ideologies instead of constitution and the law," the report states.  

The report concluded that nearly 30 percent of all money spent in 2009-10 was contributed by interests groups, which it states is "far higher than four years earlier."

"For the public, this translates to a greater use of attack ads by groups not affiliated with candidates on the ballot," the report states. "With candidates enjoying limited name recognition, and with few members of the public tuned in to court elections, judicial candidates must overcome serious obstacles if they hope to tap the small-donor revolution seen in recent presidential races."

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