“In too many states, judicial elections are becoming political prizefights where partisans and special interests seek to install judges who will answer to them instead of the law and the constitution.”Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2007
Dark money is campaign funding from undisclosed donors. Through dark money campaign contributions, special interest groups have been injecting large sums of money into Wisconsin’s judicial races. Corporate special interests want our courts to serve them instead of the people of Wisconsin.
To deliver on the promise of equal justice for all, states should require state court judges to publicly disclose their financial assets and activities–including campaign contributions they receive and campaign spending on their behalf.
This information would make it easier to identify a judge’s potential conflict of interest in a case.
Why is this important to me? A majority of voters believe campaign spending can influence a judge’s decision on the bench. Wisconsinites expect a fair shake on their day in court and deserve judges who serve citizens.
Background & History
Throughout most of U.S. history, there were strict laws regulating how much money individuals and corporations could give to candidates running for public office. In 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that individuals and corporations could give unlimited election funding to candidates of their choice.
The result has been a flood of money into campaigns.
Most state judges are elected in a way that lacks safeguards to protect their independence from special interests or political pressure, threatening their ability to apply the law fairly and without fear of retaliation.
In elections for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, money from within and from outside the state has risen dramatically over the past 20 years. In 2003, during the race between Pat Roggensack and Ed Brunner, outside groups spent $27,200. In 2020, outside spending reached $5 million in the race between Jill Karofsky and Dan Kelly.
In April 2023, spending records were smashed at $42 million between Janet Protasiewicz and Dan Kelly.
This money also affects our courts at other levels, as illustrated by this graph of Court of Appeals race spending.