Money Trails to the Federal Bench

At least two dozen federal judges appointed by President Bush since 2001 made political contributions to key Republicans or to the president himself while under consideration for their judgeships, government records show.

A four-month investigation of Bush-appointed judges by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that six appellate court judges and 18 district court judges contributed a total of more than $44,000 to politicians who were influential in their appointments. Some gave money directly to Bush after he officially nominated them.

There are no laws or regulations prohibiting political contributions by a candidate for a federal judgeship. But some ethics experts and Bush-appointed judges say that political giving is inappropriate for those seeking judicial office -- it can appear unethical, they say, and could jeopardize the public's confidence in the impartiality of the nation's courts.

Overall, CIR’s investigation found that at least 23 percent of Bush-appointed appellate judges (11 out of 47) and more than 16 percent of Bush-appointed district judges (34 out of 202) gave campaign contributions of some kind while they were under official consideration for a judgeship. Five of the appellate court judges and 15 of the district judges gave political donations after they were nominated.

The results of this investigation are detailed in:

Money Trails Lead to Bush Judges
By Will Evans | Salon.com | October 31, 2006

Money Trails to the Federal Bench
A Special CIR Report

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Updates

-- A federal judge identified by CIR for making campaign contributions while on the bench has apologized for violating the judicial code of conduct. Judge Deborah L. Cook of Ohio made two political donations after she was appointed by President Bush to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In response to CIR’s reporting, Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs of the 6th Circuit initiated a formal complaint of judicial misconduct against Cook and made the results public on Jan. 10.

-- The American Bar Association adopted a new Model Code of Judicial Conduct on Feb. 12 that prohibits campaign contributions by candidates seeking appointment to judicial office, such as federal judicial candidates. The code of conduct serves as a recommendation to states and the federal judiciary.

-- Incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy and Sen. Russ Feingold take a judge to task for his campaign contributions. Judge Thomas Hardiman gave money to key Republicans while he was under consideration for his district judgeship. Bush later nominated him for a promotion to the appellate bench. Pointed questions from Leahy and Feingold -- and Hardiman's answers -- can be viewed here.

-- Senate candidate Jon Tester of Montana used CIR's report in campaigning against Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns. (Tester ultimately won the pivotal race.) The report revealed that a Montana lawyer and his wife had given $2,000 to Burns the day before Burns recommended him for a federal judgeship. "It doesn't smell right," Tester told the Associated Press, in a story that broke just days before the election. "It's not the way representative government is supposed to work."

For comments or questions about the report, contact Will Evans at wevans@cironline.org.

Research assistance for this investigation was provided by Adam Satariano and Rina Palta.

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