Buying Time—2008

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

James Sample of the Brennan Center for Justice,917-355-9557
Charles W. Hall of Justice at Stake, 202-588-9454

Brennan Center for Justice/Justice at Stake

Buying Time—2008

Television Advertising in State Supreme Court Elections

NEW YORK - As the fall 2008 judicial season
kicks off, early data on TV advertising do not yet offer clear trends as to how
much and where judicial campaigns will suffer from excessive special interest
and partisan pressure.  But an analysis
of races earlier this year shows that interest group targeting and big money
court-campaigns remain deeply entrenched.

"Television advertising studies
have proven to offer the best available window of comparison into how, and by
whom, judicial races are financed across time, and across the country,"
said James Sample, counsel at the Brennan
Center for Justice in New York.

"Judicial politics often break late, so it's not clear how
many interest groups are cutting ads and writing checks right this minute,"
said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign, a
nonpartisan national partnership that works to preserve fair and impartial
courts.

 

chart

 

During the 2008 election season, the Brennan Center
for Justice is releasing weekly, real-time reports on television
advertising in state Supreme Court elections. The reports, to be released from
September 11 through November 12, will analyze campaign advertising by
candidates, political parties, and third-party groups.

This Week in Judicial
Politics

Television advertising has heated up in Alabama, the state marked by some of the
nation's most expensive and nastiest Supreme Court elections. In just less than
a week, the Judge Greg Shaw Committee spent close to $94,000 in campaign ads.
Shaw, a Republican state appellate judge, is heavily out-advertising his
Democratic opponent, District Judge Deborah Bell Paseur.

According to campaign finance reports, Shaw has many of the
same business-based donors who have financed candidates in recent Alabama elections,
suggesting that he has deep pockets to draw on for further campaign
advertising. 

Shaw's top five contributors include the Automobile Dealers
Association of Alabama, Pro Business Pac, and the Alabama Retail Association, all
of which have contributed heavily to Republican candidates in 2006, 2004, 2002
and 2000.

Paseur, who has received $20,000 from the state Democratic
Party, has mainly reported individual contributions of $1,000 or less.

So far, ads by both candidates have been positive in tone,
as is usually the case early in a campaign. Shaw's "Alabama values" ad, which aired in six major
markets the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, can be accessed here.  Paseur's "Amazing Grace" ad, which aired only
in the Huntsville
market, can be found here.

From 1993 to 2006, candidates raised a total of $54 million
for Supreme Court races, the highest total in the nation. In July, Alabama
State Bar President J. Mark White called for reforms
to reduce the cost of Supreme Court elections, noting that more money is spent
on court elections in Alabama
than to provide legal assistance to the poor in civil cases.

2008 - The Year to
Date

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

There was significant television advertising in four state
primaries, but the total, $1.6 million, was less than the $3.5 million spent
on  six 2006 primaries. To date, all
primary advertising has been by candidates, not by outside groups-the same as
in 2006.

Television spending spiked most sharply in Nevada, where three of four candidates vying
for an open seat ran television ads totaling $821,756. In 2006, only two of eight
candidates for three court seats ran television ads, totaling $142,000.

By contrast, a dramatic reduction in spending occurred in Washington state. After
spending heavily in a failed attempt to unseat two Supreme Court justices in
2006, the building and real estate industries stayed out of this year's
primary. Total spending on all primary campaign activities fell from $2.1
million to about $200,000, according to the Seattle Times.

In West Virginia,
$636,687 was spent in a May primary campaign in which Justice Elliott "Spike"
Maynard was voted off the court. Maynard was photographed in the French Riviera
with mining executive Donald Blankenship, who in 2004 spent more than $3
million to help elect West Virginia Justice Brent Benjamin.

In the spring, Wisconsin's
partisan
and costly 2008 Supreme Court election campaign turned into a shameful
race to the bottom with total spending in its five largest markets for the entire
duration of the race estimated at $3.6
million.

The election was dominated by special interest groups that
wrote checks to cover almost nine out of every ten dollars spent on television
advertising (89%).  On top of
exorbitant third-party spending, many of the ads aired were widely criticized.

Justice Michael Gableman, who unseated then-incumbent
Justice Louis Butler, aired an ad attacking Butler that The Wisconsin Judicial Campaign
Integrity Committee (WJCIC) described as an "offensive, race-baiting style
reminiscent of the Willie Horton spot from the 1988 presidential race." Meanwhile,
an ad sponsored by the Greater Wisconsin Committee criticized Gableman's
handling of a number of child sexual assault cases, with the WJCIC calling the
ad "completely useless," as its claims made "were not substantiated or put into
meaningful context."

The Fall
Campaign

Twenty
states will elect judges this fall. There are mixed signals about the likelihood
of runaway spending on Supreme Court elections.

Incumbents
in Michigan and Ohio, the scene of expensive elections in
recent years, have heavy financial backing from business-based funders who have
helped elect other Supreme Court justices in recent cycles, and they appear
prepared to spend heavily on re-election.

According
to campaign finance reports, Michigan Chief Justice Cliff Taylor already
had broken the fund-raising record for a
state Supreme Court candidate in early August, three months before the general
election.

It
is less clear that challengers in Michigan and
Ohio can
raise enough money to mount competitive campaigns, which could reduce spending
on both sides.

Challenges
are being mounted in several other states with a history of partisan elections
and heavy campaign spending-including Louisiana,
Mississippi, and Texas.

At
the other end, at least three states-Georgia,
Illinois, and Washington-that broke campaign spending
records in recent elections have uncontested Supreme Court races in November.

Methodology

The Brennan
Center's analyses of
television advertising in state Supreme Court elections use data obtained from
a commercial firm, TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group
("CMAG"), which records each ad via satellite.  CMAG provides information about the location,
dates, frequency, and estimated costs of each ad, as well as storyboards. Cost
estimates are refined over time and do not include the costs of design and
production.  As a result, cost estimates
substantially understate the actual cost of advertising.

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