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Buying Time 2002: Television Advertising In State Supreme Court Elections

During the 2002 election season, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releasing real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections.

October 17, 2002

For Imme­di­ate Release
Octo­ber 17, 2002

Contact Inform­a­tion:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

Buying Time 2002: Tele­vi­sion Advert­ising in State Supreme Court Elec­tions
Judi­cial Elec­tions Heat­ing Up Early in Three States

During the 2002 elec­tion season, the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releas­ing real-time reports on tele­vi­sion advert­ising in state Supreme Court elec­tions. The ground­break­ing study The New Polit­ics of Judi­cial Elec­tions, co-authored by the Center, previ­ously docu­mented that 2000 was a “water­shed year for big money, special interest pres­sure, and TV advert­ising in state Supreme Court campaigns.” This money explo­sion has real consequences for how Amer­ic­ans feel about their system of justice. Accord­ing to a recent poll, 76% of voters feel that donors to judges campaigns received special treat­ment in court, and 26% of judges polled agree.

The Bren­nan Center is track­ing tele­vi­sion advert­ising in state Supreme Court elec­tions through­out the nation. Thirty-three states will be elect­ing state Supreme Court judges this year, and the hot campaigns will include tele­vi­sion advert­ising. This report covers advert­ising from Janu­ary 1 through Octo­ber 12 in state Supreme Court races in Alabama, Missis­sippi, and Ohio. The reports provide inform­a­tion about who is advert­ising and how often, the tone and content of those advert­ise­ments, and the estim­ated cost of the airtime. 

Missis­sippi: A Virginia-based group runs first negat­ive ads in the campaign

The Virginia based Law Enforce­ment Alli­ance of Amer­ica (LEAA) has begun airing ads support­ing one Missis­sippi candid­ate, Jess Dickin­son, and another attack­ing his oppon­ent, Judge Chuck McRae. The latter is the first negat­ive ad to air in any campaign (see Over­all report, Figure 2). The LEAA has spent more than $11,000 airing ads, spon­sor­ing more than 20% of the ads voters have seen regard­ing judi­cial elec­tions in that state (see Missis­sippi report, Figure 1).

The LEAA has also tried to influ­ence the make-up of state Supreme Courts in other parts of the nation. Ads the group was running in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court contest in 2001 were taken off the air when a Pennsylvania state court barred the ads with a prelim­in­ary injunc­tion. The court would have allowed the group to continue advert­ising if they had followed state Elec­tion Code and disclosed their donors. The LEAA claimed that the disclos­ure laws did not apply, as they were running issue ads that did not expressly advoc­ate the elec­tion or defeat of a candid­ate.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (which includes Missis­sippi), adop­ted an inter­pret­a­tion of the law on issue advert­ising sympath­etic to advert­isers like the LEAA, who run ads about candid­ates and their qual­i­fic­a­tions, without expressly urging view­ers to vote for or against a candid­ate. This ruling ensures that the LEAA will be able to run ads in Missis­sippi during this elec­tion without running into the prob­lems they encountered in Pennsylvania, and without disclos­ing their fund­ing sources.

Alabama and Ohio: Early, expens­ive races heat­ing up

In 2000, Alabama saw the most expens­ive State Supreme Court elec­tions on record, with more than $1.2 million spent on airtime in a race with 13 candid­ates. So far this year, a field of only two major candid­ates has already spent about $300,000, or 25% of the total for 2000 (see Alabama report, Figure 1). In 2000, candid­ate ads didnt begin airing until Octo­ber 11; Alaba­mas first candid­ate ads aired on Septem­ber 29 for the 2002 elec­tion season. Candid­ate James Ander­son is running a very rare 60-second ad.

Candid­ates and interest groups have also star­ted advert­ising in Ohio, spend­ing more than $350,000 to date. So far, Justice Eve Strat­ton has out-spent her oppon­ent more than $5 to $1 (see Ohio report, Figure 1). However, an Ohio trial lawyer and union PAC called Citizens for an Inde­pend­ent Court has began running an ad support­ing her oppon­ent Judge Janet Burn­side and another candid­ate running for an open seat.

The Missis­sippi campaigns also star­ted earlier than in 2000, with some candid­ates running ads since the summer. So far, two candid­ates have spent about $46,000 on airtime.

Meth­od­o­logy

The Bren­nan Center is compil­ing a data­base of Supreme Court elec­tion advert­ising util­iz­ing inform­a­tion from a commer­cial firm that records each ad via satel­lite. The firm provides inform­a­tion about the loca­tion, dates, frequency, and estim­ated costs of the airings of each ad. Bren­nan Center research­ers use story­boards video captures of the ad at four-second inter­vals, with complete audio text to code the ads, docu­ment­ing the content, tone, and other inform­a­tion about each ad. Cost estim­ates are based on the aver­age cost of a media buy for the airing time and station. This calcu­la­tion does not include either premium costs often asso­ci­ated with ad buys or the costs of produc­tion.

Buying Time 2002

Buying Time reports, includ­ing links to story­boards, will be avail­able here through­out the campaign.

These reports are part of the Justice at Stake Campaign Monitor 2002, a system­atic effort to docu­ment the fund-rais­ing, tele­vi­sion ads, candid­ate speech and other campaign activ­ity in the increas­ingly conten­tious battles for the nations state courts. More inform­a­tion can be found at www.JusticeAtS­take.org.

The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law devel­ops and imple­ments a nonpar­tisan agenda of schol­ar­ship, public educa­tion, and legal action that promotes equal­ity and human dignity, while safe­guard­ing funda­mental freedoms. For more inform­a­tion, please contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998–6736 or visit http://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org.