For Immediate Release
James Sample, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–992–8648
Charles W. Hall, Justice at Stake, 202–588–9454
New York, NY – With three weeks to go before the general election in November, spending on television advertising in Supreme Court campaigns fell sharply last week, said two national watchdog groups. Nationwide candidates and interest groups spent $552,465 on television advertising, compared with $1,048,164 the week before.
By contrast, in 2004, the last Presidential election year, spending greatly increased in that time period. Between October 4 and October 10 candidates, interest groups, and political parties spent more than $1.5 million on television advertising. The previous week they had spent $683,240.
Supreme Court Television Advertising In 2004 and 2008
This year’s drop in advertising is attributable to decreases in two states, Louisiana and Ohio. Between September 27 and October 3, leading up to the October 4 primary elections, candidates and interest groups in Louisiana spent $286,410 on television advertising. In the week after the primary, spending dropped to a mere $2,217. In Ohio the reason for the sudden decrease is less clear. Two weeks ago one candidate, Justice Evelyn Stratton, and one interest group, The Partnership for Ohio’s Future, an arm of the Chamber of Commerce, spent a total of $441,770. Last week that figure plummeted to $38,348. The Partnership significantly decreased its advertising, dropping from spending $367,283 to just $5,048.
Overall spending may be lower this year than previous years because several states with histories of expensive, highly contentious elections have no contested Supreme Court elections this year. In Illinois, where in 2004 candidates, interest groups, and political parties set the record for spending on television advertising at more than $6.8 million, this year Justice Anne Bourke is running unopposed for the only elected position open. Similarly, in Georgia, where candidates and interest groups spent more than $2.8 million on television advertising in one hotly contested race in 2006, this year both seats on the bench are uncontested.
One state with a history of contentious, expensive races, however, is continuing the trend this year. Last week candidates in Alabama broke the $1 million mark, spending a total of $1.3 million on television advertising since the start of the campaign. Deborah Bell Paseur began airing an ad that criticized her opponent, Greg Shaw, for taking money from out-of-state gas and oil companies.
This week, there have been dueling ads in the Alabama campaign. After a Virginia-based group, the Center for Individual Freedom aired an ad praising Shaw, Paseur ran an ad showing a Virginia building purported to house oil and gas lobbyists, asking why they are spending on an Alabama election.
The new Alabama ads can be accessed at the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time 2008” page (to view, click here).
In response to the campaign’s increasingly edgy tone, Alabama State Bar President J. Mark White has asked both candidates to meet with the state’s judicial campaign conduct committee.
“The public rightly fears that special-interest money affects courtroom decisions, so it’s not surprising when gifts become a campaign issue,” said Charlie Hall, a spokesman for the Justice at Stake Campaign in Washington. “At the same time, it’s important that candidates campaign in a way that promotes respect for the courts. Implying that an opponent might be for sale is fairly harsh.”
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.