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2012 Judicial Campaign TV Spending Surpasses $19.5 Million

Television ad spending for state supreme court races surpassed $19.5 million this week, with more than $5 million spent in the week between October 24 and October 30, according to data released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake.

November 2, 2012

2012 Judi­cial Campaign TV Spend­ing Surpasses $19.5 Million,
Negat­ive Ads Rise as Campaigns Enter Final Phase

Contact: Seth Hoy, Bren­nan Center for Justice, seth.hoy@nyu.edu, 646–292–8369
Eeva Moore, Justice at Stake, emoore@justiceats­take.org, 202–588–9462

New York – Tele­vi­sion ad spend­ing for state supreme court races surpassed $19.5 million this week, with more than $5 million spent in the week between Octo­ber 24 and Octo­ber 30, accord­ing to data released by the Bren­nan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. As judi­cial campaigns enter their final days, negat­ive ads are play­ing an increas­ingly prom­in­ent role.

“Many of the attack ads we are seeing distort candid­ates’ records,” said Alicia Bannon, coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “And since these ads frequently come from polit­ical parties and inde­pend­ent groups rather than the candid­ates them­selves, there is little account­ab­il­ity for their content.”

“The sad fact is that the surge in special-interest attack ads is doing little to educate voters about one of the most import­ant choices they face on Elec­tion Day,” said Bert Branden­burg, exec­ut­ive director of Justice at Stake.

National TV spend­ing data for judi­cial races, as well as links to ads, are avail­able at “Judi­cial Elec­tions 2012,” a web page jointly hosted by the Bren­nan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. Addi­tional analysis is also avail­able at the Bren­nan Center’s “Buying Time 2012” web page.

High Spend­ing Contin­ues in Races Around the Coun­try, with Michigan in the Lead

Estim­ated TV ad spend­ing in state supreme court races was $19.5 million as of Octo­ber 30, accord­ing to data provided by TNS Media Intel­li­gence/CMAG, with a week of spend­ing to go before elec­tion day. In 2010, nearly 43% of total TV spend­ing in judi­cial elec­tions occurred during this final week before the elec­tion. Eight states have already surpassed the $1 million mark (MI, AL, FL, IL, MS, NC, TX, WV).

With more than $5.7 million in TV spend­ing this year — more than twice the spend­ing in any other state — Michigan contin­ues to have the most expens­ive supreme court race in the nation. Yet despite this runaway spend­ing, lax state disclos­ure laws mean that little is known about who is fund­ing the race. Even though nearly all of Michigan’s judi­cial TV ad spend­ing has been financed by polit­ical parties and special interests, repor­ted inde­pend­ent expendit­ures by parties and polit­ical action commit­tees is only $679,094.

Ads Turn Increas­ingly Negat­ive as Elec­tions Draws Near

State judi­cial races have also become increas­ingly negat­ive in the run-up to the elec­tion, with five states seeing negat­ive ads released in the past two weeks (IA, KY, MI, MS, OH). Races are becom­ing partic­u­larly ugly in Ohio and Michigan.

Ohio has witnessed the nasti­est judi­cial campaign attack ad so far in this elec­tion season. A Repub­lican Party ad in support of incum­bent Justice Robert Cupp described candid­ate Bill O’Neill as having “expressed sympathy for rapists” while serving as a judge. In a letter to the Repub­lican Party, the Ohio State Bar Asso­ci­ation described the ad as mislead­ing and stated that it “impugn[s] the integ­rity of the judi­cial system, the integ­rity of a candid­ate for the Supreme Court of Ohio, and erode[s] the public trust and confid­ence in the inde­pend­ence and impar­ti­al­ity of the judi­ciary.” Justice Cupp distanced himself from the ad, stat­ing through his campaign commit­tee that “he has not and would not approve a commer­cial like this.” The Ohio State Bar Asso­ci­ation stated that Justice Cupp needed to go further and request that the Repub­lican Party cease airing the ad.

In Michigan, conser­vat­ive group the Judi­cial Crisis Network released an ad this week against candid­ate Brid­get McCor­mack, featur­ing the mother of a soldier killed in Afgh­anistan who described McCor­mack as having “volun­teered to help free a terror­ist.” As a law professor, McCor­mack reportedly volun­teered to provide legal repres­ent­a­tion to a detainee held at Guantá­namo Bay. McCor­mack’s campaign described the ad as “last-minute mud-sling­ing by a special interest group outside of Michigan” that “confirms what Brid­get Mary McCor­mack has been saying about what’s wrong with judi­cial campaigns.” 

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, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable chan­nels. The costs repor­ted here there­fore under­state actual expendit­ures.