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How Texas Supreme Court Justices Raised $11 Million

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VII. Appendix: 
Texas’ Judicial Elections Law

Who May Contribute And What Are The Limits?
Corporations and labor unions may not contribute to Texas Supreme Court elections directly (corporate and union PACs can contribute).  TEX. ELEC. CODE ANN. § 253.094. Prior to 1995, the amount an individual could give to any candidate for judicial election was unlimited.  The Judicial Campaign Fairness Act (JCFA), which took effect on June 16, 1995, limits contributions by individuals to $5,000 to each Texas Supreme Court candidate in each election.  15 TEX. ELEC. CODE ANN. § 253.155.

The JCFA also imposes a $30,000 limit on law firms.  Once a Supreme Court candidate receives a total of $30,000 from a single law firm (including the individual contributions from the firm’s attorneys), employees of that firm cannot contribute more than $50 apiece to that candidate for that election.  15 TEX. ELEC. CODE ANN. § 253.157.

Contribution limits are calculated separately for each election, not for each election cycle.  As such, a contributor may give a Texas Supreme Court candidate $5,000 for the primary election, $5,000 more for any runoff election, and an additional $5,000 for the general election.  Tex. Ethics Comm’n Advisory Op. No. 302 (1996). A Supreme Court candidate can take a total of $300,000 from PACs.  15 TEX. ELEC. CODE ANN. § 253.160. 

When May A Candidate Accept A Contribution?
Judicial candidates may begin soliciting contributions approximately seven months (210 days) before their deadline for applying to have their names put on the ballot. They can continue to solicit money until approximately four months (120 days) after the last election (primary, runoff, or general) in which the candidate has an opponent. 15 TEX. ELEC. CODE ANN. § 253.153 (a).

An exception to this rule involves a justice who is appointed by the governor to fill an unexpired term. TEX. CONST. art. V, § 2.  New appointees may accept contributions for 60 days once their official duties commence. 15 TEX. ELEC. CODE ANN. § 253.1541 (b).  The appointed justice need not be involved in an election cycle to raise funds during this time.

Must Justices Recuse Themselves From Cases Involving Attorneys Or Litigants Who Made Large Contributions To Their Campaigns?
No.  Large contributions from lawyers and litigants with matters before Texas courts are not subject to any such limitation.   Aguilar v. Anderson, 855 S.W.2d 799, 802 (Tex. App. —El Paso 1993, writ denied); Supreme Court of Texas, Judicial Campaign Finance Study Committee, Report and Recommendations at 18 (Feb. 23, 1999) (“1999 Judicial Campaign Finance Study”).

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