… Spending to sway judicial elections has been increasing across the country for nearly two decades, but it soared after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which served to legalize unlimited electoral spending by corporations, unions and individuals. The court’s decision led to the overturning of Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, which banned direct and indirect corporate political spending in the state. The Montana law had been passed in 1912 after powerful mining corporations, like the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, essentially took over the state’s political institutions, particularly the judiciary.
Montana is one of many states where funds have poured into judicial races from groups unaffiliated with judicial candidates — the kind of supposedly independent spending that Citizens United empowered. As the amount of money has increased, so too have the nasty attacks.
“What we’ve been seeing over the past 15 years is interest groups paying increased attention to state courts,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel for the democracy program at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice.
While the influx of money, particularly post-Citizens United, has had profound effects on all kinds of political campaigns, it’s particularly troubling in those judicial races. “Judges are hearing cases involving campaign contributors, and it does create troubling conflict concerns,” Bannon said…
“If they can’t win in court, they’ll change the court,” said Gibson, of the Public Land/Water Access Association. “They’ll change the justices that make the decisions, and that’s ongoing.”