Legitimacy Matters: The Case for Public Financing in Prosecutor Elections

Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice (forthcoming)

50 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2020 Last revised: 18 Jun 2020

Date Written: May 10, 2020

Abstract

Since 2015, there has been much excitement and debate over a new wave of elected prosecutors known as "progressive prosecutors." Counties that include major cities like Chicago, Dallas, Boston, and Philadelphia now have top local prosecutors who have promised to help end mass incarceration. The elephant in the room when it comes to these progressive prosecutors is that a huge portion of them were elected with the help of George Soros-affiliated Super PACs that have contributed millions to local races in the form of independent expenditures. While much of their work is to be commended, it is crucial that criminal justice reformers take stock of the degree of influence Soros has in these elections. This Article contributes the first-ever empirical studies on the "Soros effect" in these races, examining the percentage of progressive prosecutor candidate funding that comes from Soros-affiliated PACs and the Cost Per Vote value of the Soros-financed independent expenditures for these candidates. Findings include that the existence of Soros-affiliated PAC money in a race and its Cost Per Vote can usually lead to successful predictions for the success of progressive prosecutor candidates. In addition, the higher the Cost Per Vote value that benefited an individual candidate is, the more radical that candidate's policy agenda will likely be, as well as any ensuing political backlash. This authenticates the popular narrative that Soros is "buying" locally elected prosecutor seats, which has done great harm to progressive elected prosecutors once in office. The Article suggests that one solution is small-donor public financing, which would encourage robust competition in these elections without sacrificing criminal justice legitimacy.

Keywords: Prosecutorial Elections, Prosecutorial Discretion, Prosecutorial Misconduct, Law Enforcement, Legitimacy, Local Elections, Campaign Finance, Cost per Vote

Suggested Citation

Fleming, Rory, Legitimacy Matters: The Case for Public Financing in Prosecutor Elections (May 10, 2020). Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice (forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3597696 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3597696

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