Monday, July 23, 2001
ABA Report Calls for Public Financing of Judicial Campaigns
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Judicial campaigns should be financed by taxpayers to avoid any perception of impropriety from special interest fund raising, an American Bar Association report due for release today recommends.
The report responds to what the ABA Commission on Public Financing of Judicial Campaigns called an “alarming increase in effort by special interests to influence the outcome of judicial elections.”
Investigation by the commission bolstered assertions that escalating costs of judicial campaigns are forcing judges to “accept funds from contributors, many of whom may be interested in the outcomes of cases before them.”
The panel reported that median spending in a contested Los Angeles Superior Court election has risen from $3,000 in 1970 to $70,000 in the early 1990s.
“There was an enormous amount of money being spent to campaign,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David A. Horowitz, a commission member, said. “These campaigns were being funded by people, companies, and attorneys who would later have cases come up in front of the judges they helped to elect, creating maybe not an actual bias, but certainly the appearance of one.”
Over the past year the commission has grappled with ways of eliminating this appearance of bias and promote judicial independence at a time when judicial candidates across the country are regularly spending close to $1 million to run their campaigns.
Judges, appellate justices, political consultants, social scientists and people concerned about maintaining the independence of the judiciary testified in front of the commission at hearings held across the country in preparation for drafting the report, Horowitz said.
“We wanted the absolute most experienced and best people familiar with judicial elections, how they are run and how they are conducted,” Horowitz said. “We tried to get people from all sides of the experience.”
According to the report, the public, in large part, believes that campaign contributions influence judicial decision-making and that judges who make decisions that favor contributors may be accused of favoritism.
“I really don’t think that that’s a new phenomenon, because if you look back at the Old Testament…the Book of Deuteronomy has a statement that says, ‘judges and officials shall not take a gift, for a gift blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous,’” Texas state Rep. Pete Gallego told the commission.
The report also found that some judges without wealthy connections may be disadvantaged in elections and some judges are uncomfortable soliciting contributions which may discourage qualified candidates from seeking election.
Along with the recommendation to move towards publicly funded judicial elections, the commission report also provided a list of implementing principles and supplemental recommendations, noting that “one size does not fit all” and that it must be up to the states to decide how to best implement public financing in its own environment.
“It’s really up to the states to determine the best way to do it,” Horowitz said.
Public funding of elections can be accomplished in various ways including voluntary checkoffs by state income tax payers, general allocation in state budget, or by setting certain requirements candidates must meet before accepting public funding and then binding them to spending limits, Horowitz said.
The report must be approved by the ABA House of Delegates, the association’s governing body, before it becomes official ABA policy.
Horowitz said the commission hopes that if the report is approved, state legislatures and voters will use the report and its recommendations to change the judicial election process.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company