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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.