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
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.