The Partisan Foundations of Judicial Campaign Finance

Michael S. Kang & Joanna Shepherd, The Partisan Foundations of Judicial Campaign Finance (2013) (forthcoming Southern California Law Review), available at

Abstract:  In this comprehensive empirical analysis of judicial campaign finance, we find a predictive relationship between contributions to judges and judicial decisions favorable to contributors, but we also conclude that the intuitive narrative of direct exchanges of money for decisions between individual contributors and judges is too simplistic to describe the larger partisan foundations of modern judicial elections. The Republican and Democratic Parties broker the connections between contributors and their candidates, and we argue in our work that parties, not elections, seem to be the key to money’s influence on judges.

We identify broad liberal and conservative political coalitions, allied roughly with the Democratic and Republican Parties, whose collective contributions exercise systematic ideological influence on judges who receive their money. Although the Supreme Court recognized the potential for judicial bias in cases involving major campaign contributors, we find that campaign finance predicts judicial decisions not simply in the most extreme cases, but systematically along partisan lines across the range of cases. We argue, based on our findings, that parties play an indispensable, but so far underrecognized role in connecting campaign contributions and judges.

Just as importantly, however, we identify a striking partisan asymmetry in judicial campaign finance between the major parties. While Republican judges respond only to campaign finance contributions from conservative sources and do not appear to be influenced by those from liberal sources, Democratic judges are influenced by campaign support from both liberal and conservative sources and thus are uniquely cross pressured from opposite directions. Our analysis, as a result, shows that the influence of campaign finance helps reinforce Republican conservatism and destabilize Democratic liberalism in judicial decision making, netting out in a conservative direction between the two parties.

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