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Buying Time—LA, AL & OH Lead Spending Surge

After a quiet period, it appears down-ballot races, including those for state high courts, are beginning to see an influx of money.

October 3, 2008

logoFor Immediate Release                                                     

James Sample, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–992–8648
Charles W. Hall, Justice at Stake, 202–588–9454

Louisiana, Alabama, Ohio Lead TV Spending Surge
in State Supreme Court Races

Louisiana will have its most expensive state Supreme Court election in a decade. The surge in spending marked a week in which TV advertising in judicial races shot up in four states, and special interest ads made their first significant appearance in the fall campaigns.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, television buys increased sharply in Louisiana, Alabama, Ohio, and Mississippi, during the week of Sept. 20–26. Courts in those states have been caught up in a decade-long battle for control between trial lawyers and business groups.

Nationally, $672,332 was spent on state Supreme Court election ads last week, compared with $316,070 the week before.

“After a relatively quiet period early in the fall election cycle, it is clear that down-ballot races, including those for seats on state high courts, are now involving substantial financial resources,” said James Sample, counsel at the Brennan Center.

In campaign reports before Louisiana’s Oct. 4 election for state Supreme Court, the five candidates raised a total of $1,903,498. That is more than twice the $904,000 that was raised in 2004, in the state’s previously most expensive election in this decade, but short of the $2.8 million raised in 1996.

The leading fundraiser is Justice Catherine D. “Kitty” Kimball, a Democrat, who has raised $606,085. Her opponent, Jefferson Hughes, has not reported donations, but said he has received $206,310 in loans.

The three candidates seeking the other seat, which is open, have raised relatively similar amounts. Republicans Jimmy Kuhn and Greg Guidry have raised $341,340 and $316,497, respectively, and Democrat Roland Belsome has raised $433,265.

The campaign money has translated into television advertising by all five candidates. According to a study of ad purchases, the campaigns spent an estimated total of $159,322 for TV air time during the week of Sept. 22–28, and $122,264 the week before.

Information on the ads, including storyboards and video clips, are available at the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time 2008” page. The “Buying Time” report is being updated weekly through the Nov. 4 election.

Alabama: For the first time in the campaign, Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur, a trial judge, spent more on television advertising than her Republican opponent, appellate judge Greg Shaw.

Paseur, who has a base of donors that includes many trial lawyers, spent $143,760. Shaw, who has received most of his money from business organizations, spent $65,583.

Ohio: The television airwaves last week were dominated by the Partnership for Ohio’s Future, a state Chamber of Commerce group that aired an estimated $263,226 in television advertising.

The Partnership’s most frequently recurring ad, accounting for an estimated $180,797 in airtime last week, spoke positively of incumbent Evelyn Stratton. Stratton, the only Ohio candidate to run her own ads last week, spent just $4,607 on ad time.

“Competing special interests continue to see state Supreme Courts as a political prize,” said Charlie Hall, a spokesman for the Justice at Stake Campaign, a nonpartisan national partnership that seeks to keep politics and special interest influence out of the courtroom. “The newest TV ad numbers show that this competition is a driving force again in 2008.”


The Brennan Center’s analyses of television advertising in state Supreme Court elections use data obtained from a commercial firm, TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group (“CMAG”), which records each ad via satellite. CMAG provides information about the location, dates, frequency, and estimated costs of each ad, as well as storyboards. 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.