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Buying Time 2006: Television Advertising in State Supreme Court Elections

August 29, 2006

For Immediate Release
August 29, 2006

Buying Time 2006: Television Advertising in State Supreme Court Elections

New York, NY During the 2006 election season, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will be releasing weekly, real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections. The reports, to be released after Labor Day through November 16, will analyze campaign advertising by candidates, political parties, and interest groups. The typical release will provide information about:

  • Who is advertising and how often
  • Tone and content of advertisements
  • Estimated cost of airtime

In 2000, 2002, and 2004, the Centers studies of television advertising in Supreme Court elections documented growing threats to fair and impartial courts. The studies illustrate (1) the growing influence of money on judicial elections and (2) pressure on candidates to make commitments about how they will rule if elected to the bench two trends that jeopardize public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. The results of those studies have been published in three reports, co-authored with the Institute on Money in State Politics and published by the Justice at Stake Campaign.

Early Findings in 2006

Expensive Judicial Primaries on Pace with Record-Breaking 2004: Supreme Court television advertising in the 2006 primaries kept pace with spending records set in 2004, which far exceeded previously tracked judicial primary spending. In this years judicial primaries, 17 candidates, one interest group, and one political party in six statesAlabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregonhave run 38 unique ads, expending more than $3.5 million on television advertising. In 2002, by comparison, primary election ads ran in only two states, totaling $96,000. Early spending of this magnitude raises alarm bells for citizens concerned about the fairness and impartiality of the courts, said Deborah Goldberg, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center.

Alabama Supreme Court Primaries Exemplify Radical Transformation of State Judicial Elections: In Alabama alone, six Supreme Court candidates and one special interest group spent nearly $2.7 million in the Republican primary. The expenditures marked a 59% increase over Alabamas 2004 primaries in which seven candidates and two interest groups spent $1.7 million. Notably, the biggest spender in Alabamas judicial primaries was the American Taxpayers Alliance, a group that refuses to disclose its donors.

The most startling aspect of the Alabama primaries may have been the content of the ads. Candidates, including sitting justices on the Alabama Supreme Court, engaged in unabashed attacks on their opponents, with a focus on disputed legal and political matters. In one race, a sitting Justice expressly criticized Alabamas Chief Justice for following U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Alabama is just one example that reflects two equally disturbing national trends: the continuing increase in the importance of television advertising in state judicial elections and the threat to impartiality when judicial candidates stake out positions on matters likely to arise before them as judges, said James Sample, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center.

The Biggest Spender Does Not Always Win: While the biggest spender usually wins, 2006 does offer evidence that the candidate who spends the most on television advertising does not always win. In Ohio, for example, although A.J. Wagner spent $124, 273 on television advertising, he lost to William ONeill, who did not advertise. In Arkansas, District Judge Roger Harrod outspent his opponent, incumbent Justice Donald Corbin, nearly two to one, but garnered just 37% of the vote.


The Brennan Centeru2019s analyses of television advertising in state Supreme Court elections use data obtained from a commercial firm, TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, which records each ad via satellite. CMAG provides information about the location, dates, frequency, and estimated costs of each ad, as well as storyboardsvideo captures of the ad at four-second intervals, with complete audio textand Real Player versions of each ad. Brennan Center researchers code the ads, documenting the content, tone, and other relevant information. Cost estimates are refined over time and do not include the costs of design and production. As a result, cost estimates substantially understate the actual cost of advertising.

For More Information

  • Buying Time 2006 reports, including links to the storyboards, will be available here throughout the campaign season.
  • The ads will also be included in the Justice at Stake 2006 Real Time Tracking project ( along with information about candidate fundraising and special interest activity.
  • For more information, please contact:
    James Sample, 212–992–8648