chapter  3
15 Pages

Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions in Partisan and Nonpartisan Elections: Damon M. Cann, Chris W. Bonneau, and Brent D. Boyea


The days of judicial elections being low-salience, sleepy affairs has long passed. In recent years, candidates for judicial office have spent increasingly large sums of money to win elective office. These circumstances led former Solicitor General Ted Olson to refer to judicial fundraising as a “financial arms race” (Biskupic 2009). Examples of the rising costs of judicial campaigns are abundant. Like contributions to campaigns for other offices, rising costs are tied to efforts to mobilize voters and to fund increasingly expensive advertising campaigns. The result of states using both partisan and nonpartisan judicial elections has been the emergence of increased electoral competition between judicial candidates. Relating to the expense of judicial elections, research shows that the costs of judicial campaigns almost doubled between 1990 and 2004 (Bonneau and Hall 2009). While judicial campaigns in a few states remain low-key affairs, for most states the difference between a generation ago and today represents a stark contrast. To survive a judicial campaign and to pay for expensive television and print ads, judicial candidates now raise considerable amounts of money from larger groups of contributors. Among contributors, however, the rising tide of judicial campaign costs has not displaced the traditional role of attorneys. Recent studies report that attorneys provide more than a quarter of judicial campaign contributions, with pronounced variation throughout the states (Goldberg et al. 2005). As those familiar with judges, candidates, and a state’s judicial system, attorneys likely donate money to create access between themselves, their firm, and their state’s judges (Bonneau et al. 2010). Responding to the expense of judicial campaigns, attorneys in all likelihood seek to remain on even footing with their competition. While evidence of judicial responsiveness has been difficult to consistently uncover (see Cann 2007), the correlation between attorneys and judicial decisions has emerged in several studies (Cann 2007; Champagne 1988; Waltenburg and Lopeman 2000). For attorneys in this period of costly judicial elections, activity in campaigns likely symbolizes concern about the balance between success and failure in the courtroom.