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2012 Spending on Judicial Advertisements Surpasses $7 Million, With Michigan Leading the Way

Television ad spending for judicial races has already surpassed $7 million this year, with more than $2.6 million spent since September, according to data released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake.

October 11, 2012

2012 Spending on Judicial Advertisements Surpasses $7 Million,
With Michigan Leading the Way

For Immediate Release

Contact: Seth Hoy, Brennan Center for Justice,, 646–292–8369,
Charles Hall, Justice at Stake,, 202–588–9454

New York – Television ad spending for judicial races has already surpassed $7 million this year, with more than $2.6 million spent since September, according to data released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake.

Michigan has seen more than $1.4 million in TV spending since the general election season began and is on track to be the highest-spending state this year. Special interest money has also hit the judicial retention races in Iowa and Florida, with national political figures playing an outsized role in these state judicial races. Meanwhile, while overall spending is down in Alabama, the race for chief justice may see high spending as the Democratic candidate seeks support within traditional Republican circles in his race against a controversial Republican nominee.

“Around the country, we are continuing to see heavy spending, partisan politics, and special interest pressure in judicial races,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake. “With judges increasingly forced to act like politicians, the public’s trust in the courts is threatened.”

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.

TV Spending Poised to Surge Over the Next Month

In 2010, nearly 43% of total TV spending in judicial elections occurred in the week before Election Day. With expenditures this year exceeding $7 million in 13 states to date, 2012 spending is on track to easily surpass 2010 levels, when $12 million was spent in 13 states.

“Because judicial candidates are usually not as well-known as other state office-holders, they typically concentrate their spending in the weeks leading up to the election to catch voters’ attention,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We expect spending to ratchet up dramatically as Election Day draws closer.”

Michigan: Big Spending in High-Stakes Race

Michigan had the most expensive judicial race in the country in 2010, and is on track to continue the trend this year.  

Republican justices currently enjoy a 4–3 majority on the Supreme Court, and this year’s race for three seats has the potential to change the Court’s composition. Television spending already reflects the high-stakes nature of this election. Since the start of the general election season, more than half of all TV ad spending nationally has come from the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee, which has put out two advertisements supporting the three Democratic candidates and one advertisement attacking the Republican candidates as beholden to special interests.

Television spending in Michigan began in early September and has already surpassed $1.4 million, according to data provided by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG; because this data does not include ad agency commissions, the costs of producing advertisements, or local cable buys, actual spending is likely even higher than estimated. In contrast, TV spending in Michigan had not even started by this time in 2010. The Republican Party, which spent more than $2 million on TV ads in 2010, released its first TV ad on October 10. As Election Day approaches, Michigan appears poised for another record-setting year.

Iowa and Florida: Retention Races Draw National Attention

The judicial retention races in Iowa and Florida are attracting national attention — and national money — as conservative groups seek to challenge the retention of sitting justices who participated in decisions on hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage and health-care reform.

“National political issues like same-sex marriage and health-care reform are playing an increasingly important role in state judicial races, and special interest money is following suit,” said the Brennan Center’s Alicia Bannon.

In Iowa, campaign finance disclosures indicate that groups opposing the retention of Justice David Wiggins — who participated in the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 decision legalizing marriage for same-sex couples — have spent nearly $200,000 as part of a campaign for his ouster. Groups supporting Justice Wiggins’s retention have spent approximately $50,000. Last week, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) put out Iowa’s first television ad of this season, accusing Justice Wiggins of “impos[ing] his liberal values and redefin[ing] marriage” and urging voters to hold him accountable by voting against his retention. According to campaign finance disclosure statements, NOM has already committed $100,000 to this ad campaign. Iowa’s race has also attracted the attention of national politicians. Last month, former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal both participated in a bus tour opposing Justice Wiggins’ retention.

The Florida retention race has also attracted national attention, with conservative groups challenging the retention of three justices. One case these groups have focused on is a 2010 decision that rejected a ballot initiative opposing the Affordable Care Act on the basis that it had misleading language. The Florida legislature passed a revised version of that ballot initiative, and it will appear on the 2012 ballot.

The Florida anti-retention campaign has led to unprecedented spending on both sides. Americans for Prosperity, a group linked to industrialists Charles and David Koch, recently released an advertisement opposing the Justices, and this week, pro-retention group Defend Justice From Politics released a television ad urging voters to support the justices and reject the “political power grab” by opponents to retention. In addition to the independent expenditures, the three justices facing retention elections have reported raising over $1 million. That is a dramatic change from previous retention elections in Florida. In the entire 2000–2009 decade, only $7,500 was raised by Florida supreme court justices, who reported receiving zero in contributions between 2002 and 2010.

Alabama: Chief Justice Race Heats Up  

Alabama had the highest spending in the country on Supreme Court races from 2000–2009, but with only one of five open Supreme Court seats even being contested this general election, spending this year is unlikely to come close to past levels. However, while overall spending will remain lower than in past years, the race for Chief Justice is likely to see major expenditures.

Democratic candidate Bob Vance has spent more than $300,000 on TV advertisements — more than any other candidate in the general election season. His Republican opponent, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, reportedly intends to release TV ads this month as well.

With Republicans currently dominating the Alabama Supreme Court 9–0, Democratic interest in — and spending on — Supreme Court races has waned in recent years. However, Moore is an unusually controversial Republican candidate, best known for being removed as Chief Justice in 2003 after he refused to obey a federal court order to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building. Moore has struggled to attract funding from business interests that traditionally fund Republican candidates, and was outspent by two opponents in the Republican primary. While Vance lacks Moore’s name recognition, he appears poised to attract some traditional Republican supporters — and donors — who view Moore as too extreme.

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.