A Kentucky House committee has passed 9-6 a bill for the public financing of state Supreme Court elections, intended by its proponents to protect a fair and impartial court from special-interest spending.
State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat, said in introducing his legislation last month that it was needed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling, from 2010.
“It’s conceivable that special interests could buy Supreme Court justices and put them on the bench,” Wayne said, according to an Associated Press article. “We think that our system is vulnerable to this type of purchase of Supreme Court justices.”
“Big money has become more prominent in the judiciary, just as it has in all other state and federal elections,” Rep. Tom Riner said. “This bill eliminates that dependence of judges on the campaign donations.”
This week, the House Judiciary voted favorably on the bill, largely along party lines, according to a (Louisville) Courier-Journal report. Eight Democrats were joined by one Republican in voting for the measure, and six Republicans voted against it.
Under the proposal, state Supreme Court candidates could choose whether to receive public financing. They would qualify for it after their campaigns raise $10,000, including $5,000 in small donations from at least 200 donors. Then, candidates could draw on a “Clean Judicial Elections Fund,” supported by a check-off on state tax returns and also by private contributions.
When the Supreme Court issued Citizens United more than two years ago, Justice at Stake said it “pours gasoline on the fire of special-interest money that has been overtaking judicial elections. Interest group spending imperils our right to impartial justice by pressuring judges to rule with one eye on big-money contributors.”
Justice at Stake added, “Where there is public support, states may also need to consider public financing or the appointment of judges, as the best remaining way to protect courts from campaign cash.”