Campaign Contributions Found to Affect Judicial Decisions

A 2009 study by political scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Utah State University provides empirical evidence for what we’ve long suspected. From the abstract:

In this paper we address a pressing issue on the contemporary political agenda: Is justice for sale?… We examine decisions by judges on both nonpartisan (Nevada) and partisan (Michigan, Texas) supreme courts in the 2005 term. While we do not find any evidence of a relationship between contributions and the votes of judges in Nevada, it does appear that there is a quid pro quo relationship between contributors and votes in Michigan and Texas.  [emphasis added]

The paper’s descriptions of the study’s statistical methods are not for the faint-hearted nonspecialist (“instrumental variables probit model”? “endogeneity”?), but the paper’s literature review contains several gems: 

In 2001, Justice at Stake conducted a survey of over 2,400 state judges. They found that 26% of judges thought that campaign contributions had at least some influence on the decisions of judges…. Additionally, 56% of state judges believe that judges should recuse themselves from cases involving contributors.

… a 2007 Zogby survey of business leaders indicates that 79% of them believe campaign contributions have at least some influence on the decisions of judges…. Moreover, 93% strongly agree that judges should recuse themselves from cases that involve campaign contributors.

… A 2004 nationwide survey [of voters] by Justice at Stake showed that 71% of respondents believed that campaign contributions had at least some impact on judges’ votes. More recently, a 2008 Justice at Stake survey of Minnesotans revealed that 59% of them believe that campaign contributors have at least some influence on judicial decisions; a similar survey of voters in Wisconsin yielded a figure of 76%.

The paper concludes that “the people are correct that judges are influenced by campaign contributions.”


About Hamilton Richards

I retired in 2006 as a Senior Lecturer in Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. These days I volunteer technical support for Citizens' Climate Lobby (Austin chapter), Common Ground for Texans, (, Integrity Texas (, and several friends.
This entry was posted in Clean Elections, Judicial election campaigns, Money in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Campaign Contributions Found to Affect Judicial Decisions

  1. Ronald G Linville says:

    The article itself was very disappointing; I know that I need to get to the study itself for details, but I was hoping that this article would précis it. Instead I get poll results, which are neither interesting ( to me) or relevant ( to anything). I’m interested in whether the people who think that there is a quid pro who are CORRECT, and I want to know HOW the people conducting the study determined that, considering that, barring an unlikely raft of confessions, this would seem to require mind-reading.

  2. Ham Richards says:

    If the article doesn’t provide what you want, there’s an obvious remedy—write the one you would like to have seen. Send it to me and I’ll post it for the benefit of other disappointed readers.

    In defense of the article, it includes most of the paper’s abstract, and merely by following the link provided you can read the rest of the abstract and as much of the paper as you like.

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