Injudicious Fundraising

The 2004 Supreme Court race in far southern Illinois smashed state and federal records for fundraising. The early signs suggest that the 2006 Appellate Court race in the same District may follow the same path. While another $10 million race is unlikely, the same financial interests are lining up behind the candidates, and a new Appellate Court record may be set.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests, the two Appellate Court candidates have already raised more money between them than the two Supreme Court candidates did at this point in 2004. That’s partly because one candidate faced a primary. But it also shows that financial interests are paying attention to this race.

Indeed, many of the same donors who gave to candidates in 2004 are giving again in 2006. Bruce Stewart, the Democratic nominee for Appellate Court, reports $49,000 in receipts from donors to Gordon Maag, the losing nominee for Supreme Court. Republican candidate Stephen McGlynn reports $90,000 from donors to Lloyd Karmeier, who won the 2004 Supreme Court contest.

For Democratic candidates, support comes largely from personal injury plaintiffs and labor unions. Republicans rely on personal injury defendants and insurance companies. Both parties’ candidates have come to rely on different sides of the same issue for the bulk of their funding, even though that issue has no bearing on the majority of cases the Court hears and decides.

This pattern has significant implications for the administration of justice. You could be a brilliant contracts lawyer, an expert at wills, trusts and probate, or a skilled family attorney, but if you hope to be a judge, you’d better have good relationships with personal injury interests. Even more particularly, if you’re a Democrat, you’d better get along with the plaintiffs side; if a Republican, the defendants. That’s where the money comes from.

No matter how big the spending in the race gets, litigants with interests before the court control the purse strings. And the more money that flows into these races, the harder it will be to break the cycle. It’s time to give judicial candidates a way to opt out of the fundraising rat race, and the Supreme Court Public Financing bill (SB 1955) is a start.