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Justice at Stake

SEPTEMBER 20, 2006
4:36 PM

CONTACT: Justice at Stake
James Sample of the Brennan Center for Justice, 212-992-8648
Jesse Rutledge of Justice at Stake, 202-588-9454

Special Interest Groups Dominate Washington Supreme Court Television Advertising
NEW YORK - September 20 - Spending on television advertising more than tripled in the final week of Washington’s contentious Supreme Court campaigns, making it second only to Alabama as the costliest judicial air war in the nation so far this year, said two national watchdog groups. By September 17 three interest groups had spent a total of $791,980 on TV ads. A week earlier, spending on television ads had amounted to $227,723.

All of the television advertising appeared in the contentious campaign between Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and challenger John Groen, though neither candidate’s campaign committee paid for the television ads. Instead, interest groups dueled on the air, with groups supporting Groen and opposing Alexander outspending the opposition more than four to one. "It’s Time for a Change"-- a political action committee affiliated with the Building Industry Association of Washington-- and "Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse"-- a national interest group based in Virginia-- spent a total of $638,907 to run three television ads attacking Alexander. On the other side, "Citizens to Uphold the Constitution"-- a coalition of labor, environmental, tribal, and trial lawyers-- spent $153,073 to run one ad opposing Groen.

"Given that three special interest groups, rather than the candidates, served as the chief messengers of the campaign on television, it is little surprise that the tone and tenor of Washington’s Supreme Court races reached a new low," said James Sample, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. Washington’s 2004 Supreme Court election featured only $66,127 in television advertising. That advertising, which was paid for by a candidate’s campaign, was positive in tone – a sharp contrast to 2006.

One ad run by "It’s Time for a Change" accused Alexander of inappropriately supporting Justice Bobbe Bridge after she was arrested for drunk driving. The implication was that Alexander was more interested in protecting a friend than in upholding justice.

Another ad sponsored by "Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse" featured a woman whose son was murdered saying, "The Andress decision let my son’s killer walk free…..if Justice Alexander hadn’t voted for this decision, this wouldn’t have happened." The ad did not mention that four other justices voted with Alexander.

An ad opposing Groen, sponsored by "Citizens to Uphold the Constitution," says, "John Groen and far right extremists are trying to buy our Supreme Court. So extreme they gut protections for our clean air and water. They oppose stem cell research and a woman’s right to choose." Groen said he has never taken a position on any of the issues mentioned.

"The kind of mudslinging we have seen in Washington has no place in any political race, but it certainly should not appear in a campaign for a seat on the state’s highest court," said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake. "When political ads demand that courts answer to interest groups instead of being fair and impartial, public confidence in the judiciary is put at risk," he added.

This year Washington is second only to Alabama in television spending on Supreme Court races. Leading up to the Alabama Republican primary in June, six candidates and one interest group spent a total of almost $2.7 million on television advertising. Television advertising for Alabama’s general election began last week, when challenger Sue Bell Cobb took to the airwaves.


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