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The Role of Big Money in Judicial Elections: A Threat to Democracy


The use of big money in judicial elections has become a growing phenomenon. According to new state campaign finance records, a group called Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness, which is financed by a slew of billionaire donors, has spent over $3 million in support of Democratic Judge Daniel McCaffery and against Republican Judge Carolyn Carluccio, who are vying to become the next justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. Although both judges are qualified, this big money race has raised concerns about the potential impact on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. In this op-ed, we explore the role of big money in judicial elections and its implications for democracy.

What the Data Shows

The Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness PAC has received funds from various sources, including wealthy philanthropists, financial investors, and so-called “dark money” nonprofit organizations. The Spielberg Family Living Trust, associated with Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg, gave $12,500 to the group in mid-August. Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness has also received significant sums from billionaire donors like Susquehanna International Group co-founder Jeffrey Yass, Stephen Mandel (head of investment firm Lone Pine Capital), and billionaire philanthropist Lynn Schusterman. Some of these donors have an estimated net worth of billions of dollars. Furthermore, the PAC has received donations from “dark money” groups, such as PA Alliance Action and the North Fund, which do not disclose their donors.

Implications for Democracy

The influence of big money in judicial elections undermines the principles of fairness, impartiality, and independence in the judiciary. The fact that donors with deep pockets can influence the outcomes of crucial judicial races raises concerns that justice may be for sale. This diminishes the integrity of the judiciary and erodes public trust in the judicial system. Moreover, the lack of transparency in campaign financing further exacerbates these concerns. Voters should be able to know who is funding judicial campaigns, so they can assess whether these judges are likely to remain impartial or be influenced by their donors when making critical decisions.

What Can We Do?

The use of big money in judicial elections is a growing concern that requires urgent attention. To start, state and federal lawmakers should enact laws that require transparency in campaign financing. Donors should be required to disclose their identities, the amount of money donated, and the purpose of their donations. Additionally, we need to promote public financing of judicial elections to reduce the influence of big money. Public financing would give all candidates equal resources to campaign and ensure that judges are not beholden to their donors. Additionally, we need to educate voters about the impact of campaign financing on judicial races. Voters should know that the quality of justice depends on the integrity and impartiality of judges, not the size of their campaign contributions.


The use of big money in judicial elections is a significant threat to democracy. The fact that rich donors can influence the outcomes of crucial judicial races raises concerns about the independence and impartiality of our judiciary. It is therefore imperative that we take immediate action to reduce the impact of big money on judicial elections. By promoting transparency, public financing, and education, we can help to ensure that our judiciary remains impartial and independent, and that justice is not for sale.

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