A campaign reform group finds state Supreme Court candidates they surveyed want recusal guidelines when trying cases involving their campaign contributors. Whitney Woodward, an analyst at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says the increasing amount of money flowing in judicial elections damages the court’s credibility. She says that includes the $9.3 million spent in the Lloyd Karmeier vs. Gordon Maag election in Southern Illinois in 2004. It was one of the most expensive judicial elections in American history.
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Justice Mary Jane Theis, who is currently filling a Supreme Court vacancy, points to the Tennessee guidelines that require judges to issue a public statement when they don’t step aside in a case involving their campaign contributors. “The public sees that and thinks ‘wow, these are candidates for judge. They’re bring in a lot of money. Where are they getting their money from?’” Woodward says. Ten states have recusal guidelines and 39 states elect at least some of their judges.
Woodward says most voters don’t know the judges on the ballot and they rely on name recognition, which benefits the candidates who can afford radio and TV ads and campaign signs. “Candidates for judge aren’t normally the people voters thing about when they’re trying to do their research and make their decisions about how to vote, “ Woodward says.