In New Report, Common Cause Ohio Calls for More Transparency and Improved Recusal Standards

"Can Money Buy Justice?" documents contributions to Ohio's Supreme Court candidates

COLUMBUS—   Today, Common Cause Ohio released a study examining campaign contributions to the candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court and called for the Ohio Supreme Court to strengthen recusal rules so that judges step away, rather than hear the cases of their campaign contributors.

“The idea that judges should not be able to hear the cases of campaign contributors is such common sense that many people assume it is already the case,” said Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio’s executive director. “Courtroom decision made with a conflict of interest can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives. We need to establish stronger recusal standards so that judges are insulated from the influence of wealthy donors and so that Ohioans can feel confident in the impartiality of judicial decisions.”

Together, the candidates for justice of the Ohio Supreme Court raised nearly $900,000 from January of this year through the month of August.

Contributions raised from January 2018 to August 2018 campaign finance filing*

  Mary DeGenaro                (Republican Appointed Incumbent) $269,222.37
  Melody Stewart                          (Democratic Challenger) $129,212.00
  Craig Baldwin                           (Republican for Open Seat) $251,803.25
  Michael P. Donnelly               (Democratic for Open Seat) $234,462.96
Total Contributions $884,700.58

* Includes both monetary and in-kind contributions.

Since 1999, the ABA has recommended the mandatory disqualification of any judges who have accepted large contributions from a party appearing before them.

Top Economic Sectors from January 2018 to August 2018 campaign finance filing*

  Mary DeGenaro                             Lawyers and Lobbyists




  Melody Stewart                             Lawyers and Lobbyists




  Craig Baldwin                                 Insurance

Lawyers and Lobbyists



  Michael P. Donnelly                      Lawyers and Lobbyists




* Includes both monetary and in-kind contributions.


This study gives the public a glimpse into donation patterns and reflects contributions to the candidates. However, this may constitute merely the tip of the iceberg regarding political spending on these races.

Spending on elections including judicial races is not limited to the candidates’ campaigns.  Following Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, political advertisements by nonprofit organizations – who don’t have to disclose their donors –  have dramatically increased. These independent expenditures or political advertisements that are not coordinated with the candidates’ campaigns impact elections. Often, the sources of the funding for these political ads are not clear. The lack of transparency has led this spending to be called “dark money.”

“Requiring disclosure of the donors supporting ads surrounding elections is be an important step toward transparency and accountability,” Turcer said.  “Too many elections pass without the state legislature working together to make sure that voters can ‘follow the money.’  As the the U.s. Supreme Court recognized in Caperton v. A.V. Massey Coal disclosure of these political ads and recusal in ases of conflicts of interest are particularly important when it comes to judicial elections. Without transparency, judges may have conflicts of interest that voters are left in the dark about, and without reusal standards triggered by political spending, those conflicts of interest may not lead to judges stepping aside.  These are two common sense ways to build a better, fairer Ohio court.”

To read the full report, click here.