Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post is a frequent critic of the excesses and absurdities of campaign finance and devotes her column today to the rising cost of judicial elections and attendant rise in vicious ad wars between candidates. She notes a few bright spots, including the judicial public financing systems in North Carolina and, soon, in New Mexico."
The paradox of judicial elections is that voters simultaneously demand this system and distrust it. The Annenberg Public Policy Center found that nearly two in three preferred to elect judges rather than have a merit system in which governors choose from a list developed by a nonpartisan committee. Yet seven in 10 believed that the need to raise campaign funds would affect a judge's rulings. Even without the impact of campaign cash, it's easy to see how judges facing reelection might think twice before issuing a decision that could be fodder for a 30-second spot.
It does seem in this case like public financing of judicial races is the logical resolution to the apparent paradox: ensure elections will go forward and eliminate even the appearance of impropriety with public funds.