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Buying Time—Michigan and Alabama Join Costly Wisconsin

Judicial campaign spending increases in these states.

October 30, 2008

For Immediate Release  

Contacts: Lauren Jones, Brennan Center for Justice, 908–625–6396
James Sample, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–992–8648

Michigan and Alabama Join Wisconsin as 2008's Costliest Court Campaigns

New York, NY – Facing blistering attacks on his preparation, efficiency, and legal knowledge, Michigan Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce spent a combined $1,098,330 in the two week period ending October 24 on television advertising supporting Taylor’s re-election.  That sum amounted to more than four times the amount spent during that period supporting his opponent, Judge Diane Hathaway.  All of the advertising supporting Hathaway during the period was paid for by the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee.

An October 19–20 poll by the Detroit News and WXYZ-TV shows the candidates locked in a tight, but unpredictable race, with 61 percent of the electorate undecided.

Although vastly outspent, the Democratic State Central Committee, which is supporting Hathaway, has countered with a trio of particularly harsh attack ads:

  • One ad accuses Taylor of carrying out his “assignment” from the wealthy corporations that allegedly put him on the bench, by ruling that a woman who was sexually harassed and raped at work could not sue her employer.  The ad asks voters to “call Clifford Taylor and thank him for protecting wealthy corporations from suits by women who are sexually harassed and raped at work.”
  • A second ad features an endorsement of Taylor from President Bush and accuses the two men of being “political soldiers for the rich.”
  • And a third ad excoriates Taylor for allegedly falling asleep during a trial; cites a poll of lawyers critical of Taylor; and asserts that fellow judges called for an investigation of Taylor for misconduct and abuse of power.

98.5% of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s television spending in the period was for an advertisement portraying Taylor as tough on crime. Taylor also sponsored his own ads, including one claiming that Judge Hathaway ran for the Court of Appeals “so she could spend most of the winter in Florida.”

“The three costliest court campaigns of 2008—in Wisconsin, Alabama, and Michigan—have also been the nastiest. Regardless of who wins such contests, the exorbitant sums of money and misleading attacks inevitably undermine public confidence in the courts,” said Lauren Jones, courts researcher for the Brennan Center.

In two of the three most expensive races in 2008, those in Wisconsin and Michigan, independent third party groups, as opposed to the candidates’ own campaign committees, were primarily responsible for the high spending.  In Wisconsin (which held its general election on April 1) outside groups accounted for 91 percent of the spending on advertising, and in Michigan the Chamber and the Democratic Party accounted for 73 percent of the spending.

In Alabama, by contrast, 80 percent of advertising so far has been funded by candidates.  Indeed, Judge Deborah Bell Paseur who has spent $1,240,640 in her bid for a seat on Alabama’s high court, nationally trails only the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) in expenditures on advertising. WMC spent $1,296,842 to defeat then-incumbent Wisconsin Justice Louis Butler.  It thus appears likely that Judge Deborah Bell Paseur will close the 2008 cycle as the year’s biggest spender on television advertising in a single state supreme court race.


More information, including storyboards and videos of the advertisements can be found on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time 2008” webpage available here.

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.