Spending in N.C. Supreme Court election soars past $1M

David Yates Nov. 29, 2014, 6:00pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – With less than one month remaining before Election Day, candidates for the North Carolina Supreme Court have booked more than $1 million worth of TV airtime for campaign ads in the four contested races.

The total covers ads purchased since buying for the general election began, according to Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, which unearthed the information from reports filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

As of Oct. 4, five high-court hopefuls have booked more than 2,700 ad slots for the election, with a gross airtime cost of $1,002,013 in connection with four races: Chief Justice Mark Martin v. Judge Ola M. Lewis, Justice Robin Hudson v. Judge Eric Levinson, Justice Robert Hunter Jr. v. Judge Sam Ervin, and Justice Cheri Beasley v. Michael Robinson.

“The pressure to raise big money and advertise for one’s reelection is unfortunate and inescapable for Supreme Court justices in North Carolina today,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.

“Judges and justices follow a calling to serve on the bench so they can defend the law and our system of justice, not stump like politicians. They don’t like it, the public doesn’t like it, and something has to be done to insulate judges from campaign trail pressure.”

Justice at Stake is a nonpartisan organization that tracks spending in judicial elections.

“Without a public financing system, judges are forced to fundraise from the business interests and lawyers who have a direct stake in the way these judges rule,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “And that’s time and energy judges could be spending deciding cases.”

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice.

Although some judicial candidates purchased ads on their own behalf, most teamed up to buy TV airtime in tandem.

The following is a breakdown of candidates who have purchased TV airtime:

•    Mark Martin has contracted for 383 solo ads worth nearly $100,000. He has also partnered with two fellow registered Republican candidates to run campaign ads. Martin and Michael Robinson have placed orders for 482 ads worth nearly $104,000 in gross airtime. Martin has also teamed up with Eric Levinson to purchase 334 ad buys costing $176,000.

•    Martin’s challenger, Ola Lewis, a registered Republican, has not booked any ads for the general election. Nor has Levinson’s opponent, Robin Hudson, a registered Democrat.

•    In addition to teaming up with Martin, Robinson will also run 297 ads with airtime costs of $130,000 with John Bryant, a Republican running for district attorney in Wake County. Robinson also has booked 81 solo ads for nearly $9,700 in gross airtime. Robinson’s opponent, Cheri Beasley, has no ad contracts on file with the FCC.

•    Robert N. Hunter Jr. has booked 31 slots worth more than $15,000 in gross airtime. Hunter has also teamed up with Lucy Inman, a candidate for Court of Appeals, to air 155 ads worth more than $22,000 in gross airtime. Hunter, an appellate judge appointed to the high court in August, and Inman are registered Republicans.

•    Hunter’s challenger, registered Democrat Sam Ervin IV, has booked 29 slots worth some $7,500 in gross airtime. Ervin also has a joint ad campaign with fellow Democrat and Court of Appeals candidate Mark Davis. The Ervin/Davis duo has bought more than 900 slots worth nearly $437,000 in airtime.

Documented spending in North Carolina’s high-court primary and general election is nearly $3.6 million, state and federal filings show.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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