Report: Judicial candidates spent more than $4.6M in primary TV ads

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 14, 2012, 8:30am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Judicial candidates in Alabama, Illinois, Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Montana and Oregon spent nearly $4.7 million in television advertisements this primary season, according to a report released Thursday by two legal reform groups.

All told, candidates in the seven states spent $4,673,370, according to data compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and Justice at Stake.

In Alabama, candidates Tommy Bryan, Charlie Graddick, Chuck Malone and Roy Moore spent a total of $1,391,530 in TV ads.

In Illinois, candidates Mary Jane Theis and Joy Cunningham spent $1,334,170. Theis, alone, spent $1,198,590 on ads heading into the state's primary.

In Texas, candidate Don Willett spent $1,167,930.

In West Virginia, candidates Tish Chafin, Robin Jean Davis, Louis Palmer and Jim Rowe spent $586,050 altogether.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, candidates Raymond Abramson and Jo Hart spent $168,410.

Montana candidate Elizabeth Best spent $22,110 and Oregon candidate Nena Cook spent $3,170.

That $4.6 million -- based on estimates from TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG -- is more than quadruple the estimated TV spending in the 2010 primaries.

Then, candidates in three states spent slightly more than $1 million.

This year's primary spending by the seven states also tops the previous record of $3.8 million spent in 2004 in nine state primaries.

However, some traditionally high-spending states are expected to see lower spending overall.

The Brennan Center and Justice at Stake said early reports suggest that such states will see less competitive elections.

"Money and special interests continue to transform judicial elections around the country," said Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.

"We are seeing uncontested races in traditionally high-spending states like Alabama and Ohio, where big money over the past decade delivered the high court to a single party. In these states, overall spending is likely to be down this year."

At the same time, traditionally low-cost retention elections will see high levels of spending as interest groups pour money into unseating judges.

Super PACs are also poised to inject money into judicial races, with the potential to transform how campaigns are fought, the groups said.

"The new politics of judicial elections is playing out differently in different states, but the threat everywhere is the same," said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.

"Special interests are spending millions to capture our courts, and they are succeeding."

Nationally, there are 20 states with contestable state Supreme Court seats this year, with a total of 46 seats at stake. Twenty-five high court judges in 13 states face one-candidate retention elections, in which voters choose whether to give incumbents another term.

The Brennan Center describes itself as a "non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice."

Justice at Stake is a non-partisan nonprofit "working to keep America's courts fair and impartial."

National TV spending data for judicial races, as well as links to ads, are available here.

The site, jointly hosted by the Brennan Center and Justice at Stake, will provide regular updates on TV ads, fundraising and key political players in this year's state high court elections.

Additional analysis is also available at the Brennan Center's Buying Time 2012 web page.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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