Judicial Elections 2010: TV Spending Surges

For Immediate Release


Charles Hall, Justice at Stake, 202-588-9454; chall@justiceatstake.org
Adam Skaggs, Brennan Center for Justice, 646-292-8331; adam.skaggs@nyu.edu

Judicial Elections 2010: TV Spending Surges

Business and Conservatives Outspend Rivals, Reform Groups Report

WASHINGTON -  Spending on state Supreme Court TV
ads has exploded nationally as Election Day nears, with $3.3 million
being spent in the week between Oct. 21 and Oct. 27. The TV binge has
raised total ad spending to nearly $13 million for the 2009-10 election
cycle, with business and conservative groups outspending lawyers and
unions in every major state except Illinois.

Several ads have included questionable claims, stirring complaints by editorial pages, a judges association, and www.factcheck.org,
which reviews campaign advertising. Factcheck rejected claims in one
Michigan Democratic ad, while accusing an Illinois group of
cherry-picking cases to attack an incumbent judge.

Through Wednesday, Oct. 27, $8,154,920 has been spent nationally on TV
air time in 2010 judicial elections, including primary and general
election advertising.  Of that, $7,152,580 was spent in the general
election, between Aug. 1 and Oct. 27, and $3,391,730 — 41% of total
spending for the year — was spent in the seven days from Oct. 21 through
Oct. 27.

“The lion’s share of TV spending in judicial campaigns takes place just
before Election Day, and over the past week there has been a dramatic
increase in the volume of TV ads being run in judicial elections across
the country,” said Adam Skaggs, Counsel with the Brennan Center for
Justice.  “Many of these spots are mudslinging attack ads by candidates
and outside special interests which have been widely denounced as
slanderous and misleading at best.”  

Including $4.6 million spent on TV ads in 2009, the current total for
the 2009-2010 election cycle is approximately $12.8 million, compared
with around $16 million in the last non-presidential election cycle,
2005-2006.  The highest total for TV advertising in a two-year election
cycle occurred in 2007-2008, when candidates, political parties and
outside special interest groups combined to spend $26.6 million on TV

Non-candidate groups have led the way.

Three of the top spenders in the Iowa retention election, which has
hinged on a 2009 ruling upholding same-sex marriage, have been national
conservative groups. Of the nearly $1.1 million spent on that election, a
total of $654,000 has come from the National Organization for Marriage,
the Family Research Council, and the Campaign for Working Families,
which has ties with the Family Research Council.

Nationally, four of the top five TV ad spenders in the general election
(Aug. 1 – Oct. 27) are non-candidate groups. The greatest disparities
between non-candidate and candidate general election TV spending are in
Michigan and Ohio.

The following are highlights from the last week of national judicial elections, as updated in Judicial Elections 2010,
a web site jointly operated by the Justice at Stake Campaign and the
Brennan Center for Justice. TV ad information also is available at the
Brennan Center's "Buying Time 2010" page.

National Overview

Illinois Justice Thomas Kilbride, who is seeking another term in a
one-candidate retention election, remains the national leader both in
campaign fundraising, as well as TV ad spending by a candidate. Through
Oct. 28, Kilbride had raised $2.5 million. Of that, $1,425,000 had come
from the Democratic Party of Illinois, whose funding primarily comes
from plaintiffs’ lawyers, unions and House Speaker Mike Madigan.

The Illinois Civil Justice League, the group challenging Kilbride, has
raised $648,000, most of it from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the
American Justice Partnership, a group closely aligned with the National
Association of Manufacturers; and the American Tort Reform Association.

Kilbride has spent $1,361,550 on TV, more than all but a single
non-candidate group, the Michigan Republican Party.  All together, four
of the five biggest spenders are non-candidate groups.  

The Michigan Republican Party ranks first overall in TV spending
($1,399,100).  Kilbride ranks second; the Partnership for Ohio’s Future
ranks third (846,340); the Michigan State Democratic Party ranks fourth
($554,470); and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America ($356,570) ranks

In Michigan, the Republican Party and the Law Enforcement Alliance of
America, a Virginia-based interest group, have spent $1.75 million in
support of two Republican candidates, while the Democratic Party has
spent about $554,000 supporting two Democrats.  Together, these
non-candidate groups combined to spend $2,310,140 — 86% of total TV
spending in Michigan — compared to a total of $366,320 spent by the

In Ohio, the Partnership for Ohio’s Future is responsible for
approximately 51% of all general election TV spending, underwriting
$846,270 in ad buys supporting Republican candidates Judith Lanzinger
and Maureen O’Connor.  The O’Connor and Lanzinger campaigns each spent
an additional $320,000. Democrats Eric Brown and Mary Jane Trapp have
spent a combined $177,490 — about 10% of all TV spending in Ohio’s
supreme court election spending.

Questionable Ads

Factcheck.org has weighed in with a
review of disputed ads in the 2010 election season, in Michigan,
Illinois and Iowa. Citing a Michigan Democratic Party ad that accused
Justice Robert Young of barring suits against polluters, Factcheck says,
“In fact, any citizen directly affected by environmental harm can still

Factcheck also criticized an Illinois Civil Justice League ad attacking
Kilbride — an ad also assailed by the Illinois Judges Association as
“ugly” and deceptive. According to Factcheck, the JustPac ad
“cherry-picks cases in its ad to portray Justice Thomas Kilbride as

And in Alabama, a newspaper sharply criticized a radio ad by Justice
Thomas Parker, in which Parker suggested that a federal judge, who
struck down the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay
military personnel, was as great a threat to national security as

Retention Election Spending

Nationally, about $4.3 million has
been spent on retention elections in 2010, driven by races in which
Illinois and Iowa justices face stiff challenges. That is nearly twice
the $2.2 million spent in all retention elections nationally for the
entire 2000-2009 decade, as documented in “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2000-2009: Decade of Change.”

Supreme Court justices also are
being challenged in Colorado, but relatively little money has been
raised in that effort. According to TNS Media Intelligence, about
$130,000 in ads relating to the Colorado high court race have aired
since Aug. 1.

# # #

The Justice at Stake Campaign is a
nonpartisan national partnership working to keep our courts fair,
impartial and free from special-interest and partisan agendas. In states
across America, Campaign partners work to protect our courts through
public education, grass-roots organizing and reform. The Campaign
provides strategic coordination and brings organizational,
communications and research resources to the work of its partners and
allies at the national, state and local levels. For information, visit www.justiceatstake.org.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a
nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental
issues of democracy and justice. The Center works on issues including
judicial independence, voting rights, campaign finance reform, racial
justice in criminal law and presidential power in the fight against
terrorism. Part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy
group, the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal
advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the
public sector. For more information, visit www.brennancenter.org.

TV Methodology
All data on ad airings and spending on ads are calculated and prepared
by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, which captures satellite data in that
nation’s largest media markets.  CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad
agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements.  The costs
reported here therefore understate actual expenditures; the estimates
are useful principally for purposes of comparison of relative spending
levels across states.


Click here for PDF version of this release.


We’re a nationwide, nonpartisan partnership of more than forty-five judicial, legal and citizen organizations. We’ve come together because across America, your right to fair and impartial justice is at stake. Judges and citizens are deeply concerned about the growing impact of money and politics on fair and impartial courts. Our mission is to educate the public and work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom—so judges can do their job protecting the Constitution, individual rights and the rule of law.

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