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TribBlog: High Court Bucks

There's big spending going on in Texas Supreme Court races, according to a new study.

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Texas ranks fifth nationwide in Supreme Court candidate fundraising, according to a study released today that tracked campaign spending in state judicial races between 2000 and 2009. The report, commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the Institute on Money in State Politics, found that contributions surged nationally and by state, what it calls "a grave and growing challenge to the impartiality of our nation's courts." 

In Texas, the biggest donors during that period included three of the state's white-shoe law firms, Vinson & Elkins, Haynes and Boone, and Fulbright & Jaworski; tort reform powerhouse Texans for Lawsuit Reform; and, surprisingly, for an all-Republican court, the Texas Democratic Party. During the 2007-2008 cycle, the state Democratic Party spent an estimated $904,000 on TV ads for three candidates. That sum was enough for the group to trump spending by all others on the list during the whole ten-year period. 

In February, the Tribune looked at the top contributors to judicial elections among law firms since 2000. Vinson & Elkins, Haynes and Boone, and Fullbright & Jaworski topped that list, too, but when we broke it down by employee contributions — that is, how much individuals working at each of the firms contribute — Baker Botts was at the top. Haynes and Boone partner Lynne Liberato, who oversees the firm's political action committee, said at that time it was "just crazy" to believe that “by giving $1,000 or $5,000 to a judge, that's going to change his or her opinion.” She said her firm contributes because of its “interest in a stable judiciary” and that it felt a responsibility to participate in the “system as it exists.”

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Courts Criminal justice Judiciary of Texas Texas Supreme Court