JAS, Partners: Pennsylvania Court Race Cost Over $16.5 Million

A post-Election Day tally of documented spending in Pennsylvania’s 2015 Supreme Court election shows total spending rose to  $16,536,492,  further eclipsing the previous national record for a Supreme Court race.  Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice released the data on November 6, 2015, three days after Election Day, incorporating information obtained on and immediately after Election Day itself. On that day, November 3, documented spending in the race had already reached $15,850,297, breaking the previous national record of $15.19 million set in Illinois in 2004. (See Gavel Grab.)

“Overblown campaign spending in state court races is a giant and growing storm that threatens justice,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake.  “Our recent research shows that in the 2013-14 cycle, more than 90 percent of contested state Supreme Court races were won by the candidate who raised the most money.  The Pennsylvania race – the most expensive of its kind in history – confirms that finding. We need to break this cycle by moving away from contested elections for judges.”

The race featured an ad war between two major interest groups, the Republican State Leadership Committee and Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, a group funded mainly by plaintiff’s attorneys and labor.  Yet the candidates’ campaigns themselves spent the most money.  Candidates raised at least $13,097,912 during the 2015 primary and general elections, according to publicly filed state campaign disclosures and 24-hour contribution reports.

Democrats and their allies outspent Republicans and their allies in the race, and the three Democratic candidates, Judges Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and David N. Wecht, swept all three open seats.