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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, chall@justiceats­, 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.