When two candidates for Pennsylvania’s Superior Court debated, they disagreed most in their positions on political activity by outside interest groups in a judicial election.
Democrat David Wecht asked Republican Victor Stabile to sign a mutual pledge renouncing ads, mailings or other activity by outside groups or their political committees, according to a Harrisburg Patriot-News article. Wecht, an Allegheny Court judge, portrayed the pledge as a step to ensure the judgeship would not be bought by “third-party, big money special interest groups.”
Stabile, a lawyer and Middlesex Township supervisor, said he was uncomfortable with making such a commitment suddenly for “political expediency.” He pointed to free speech case rulings that permit all voices a right to be heard in election campaigns.
Our friends at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts remarked upon the exchange in their Judges on Merit blog, saying it “underscores the growing awareness of the influence money can have in judicial politics, where one expects – or should be able to expect – the greatest degree of impartiality.”
The blog added, “Some amount of accountability should be placed on the candidates for how third parties contribute to their campaigns, even if only in the form of a pledge to denounce wrongdoing. However, such a measure is still only remedial to the real problem – that special interest dollars and partisan politics occlude the actual merits and qualifications of candidates, and cause justice itself to be at grave risk of being purchased by those with the deepest pockets.” PMC is a JAS partner group.
Justice at Stake has documented soaring spending in judicial elections during the past decade and warned that “special interests hope to buy favorable treatment, by electing judges who they hope will serve their agenda.”