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Buying Time—LA Smashes Records, AL Ad Wars Go Negative

Spending in the Louisiana race increased sharply just days before last week’s primary election. Advertising in Alabama turned increasingly negative as campaign spending rose in that race.

October 9, 2008

logoFor Immediate Release                                                     

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

Television Advertising in Louisiana’s Supreme Court Elections Smashes Record
Alabama Ad Wars Also Turning Nasty

New York, NY – Advertising by Supreme Court candidates in Louisiana increased sharply in the days before last week’s primary election, creating by far the most expensive air wars between judicial candidates that the state has seen, announced two national watchdog groups. In the week before the October 4 primary, candidates and special interest groups spent $286,410 on television advertisements, bringing total spending for the campaign cycle in the state to $726,253. That eclipses the $153,212 spent during the entire campaign cycle in Louisiana in 2004, the only other year where Louisiana saw any advertising for Supreme Court elections since the Brennan Center for Justice and the Justice at Stake Campaign began analyzing state Supreme Court campaigns in 2008—to view ads and storyboards, click here.

The majority of the advertising was from the First Judicial District, where Democrat Roland Belsome was battling Republicans Jimmy Kuhn and Greg Guidry for an open seat on the court. Guidry and Kuhn received the first and second most votes respectively, advancing them to the general election in November. This marks the first time in 36 years that a Republican will hold that seat.

“Louisiana is the latest state to set a record for TV spending on a Supreme Court race,” said James Sample, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice. “It reinforces the reality that big money is becoming a prerequisite for anyone who wants to serve on the bench.”

The rest of the advertising came from the Fifth Judicial District, where 16-year incumbent Kitty Kimball easily defeated challenger Jeff Hughes. Justice Kimball spent more than $200,000 on television advertisements, compared with Hughes’ $111,283.

As the election approached, the subject of the ads became more political and the tone more negative. Belsome ran an ad criticizing Guidry for working for former District Attorney of Orleans Parish Eddie Jordan, who resigned last year in response to allegations of purging the office of white employees. The Louisiana Conservative Action Network sponsored an ad on behalf of Guidry criticizing Kuhn as “a Democrat until recently.” Former Governor Mike Foster appeared in an advertisement endorsing Jimmy Kuhn.

Advertising also turned negative in Alabama, where Judges Greg Shaw and Deborah Bell Paseur have been waging an increasingly expensive campaign for an open seat on the Supreme Court. Last week Paseur outspent Shaw on television advertising more than four to one, spending $232,159 to his $49,109.

A new ad stated that Paseur is the only candidate who hadn’t taken money from oil interests, then adding a printed motto, “Deborah can’t be bought.”

According to an Associated Press article, Shaw angrily demanded an apology for what he called an attack on his integrity.

“Implying that your opponent might be for sale is a rather harsh tactic for a judicial candidate,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Jsutice at Stake. “It’s yet another effect of the growing special interest war over the courts, and the public’s fear that campaign cash affect courtroom decisions.”

National polling shows that more than three in four Americans believe contributions affect judges’ decisions.

Advertising in the rest of the country increased sharply as well. Last week Supreme Court candidates and special interest groups spent more than $1 million nationwide, bringing the year’s total to more than $7.7 million. That far surpasses the $6.6 million spent by the first week of October in 2006.


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.