New Analysis Finds Correlation Between Contributions and Decisions in Wisconsin

October 23, 2013

According to a new analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, justices on Wisconsin's high court tend to favor parties whose attorneys contributed to their election campaigns. With respect to campaign donations made prior to rulings, justices included in the study ruled in favor of donors 59 percent at the time. And for at least one justice, the likelihood of a vote in favor of a contributor increased as the size of the contribution increased. The analysis does not establish that campaign support actually influenced the justices' decisions, but fair courts advocates worry that the public perceives this to be the case and that trust in judicial impartiality suffers as a result.

Researchers examined data from the last 11 years and included contributions to supreme court candidates before and after decisions came down involving those contributors. All told, attorneys with cases before the court had contributed more than $200,000 to sitting justices. And in 98 percent of these cases, the recipients of these contributions did not recuse themselves from cases involving their supporters. While some states have clear standards for when justices must disqualify themselves in such instances, Wisconsin's code of judicial conduct allows each member of the court to make their own determination as to whether recusal is appropriate.