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Fifty Percent Increase In Number of States With TV Ads In State Supreme Court Races

During the 2002 election season, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releasing real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections.

October 23, 2002

For Imme­di­ate Release
Octo­ber 23 2002

Contact Inform­a­tion:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

Fifty Percent Increase in Number of States With TV Ads in State Supreme Court Races
Ohio Has Already Topped the $1 Million Mark

During the 2002 elec­tion season, the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releas­ing real-time reports on tele­vi­sion advert­ising in state Supreme Court elec­tions. The ground­break­ing study The New Polit­ics of Judi­cial Elec­tions, co-authored by the Center, previ­ously docu­mented that 2000 was a “water­shed year for big money, special interest pres­sure, and TV advert­ising in state Supreme Court campaigns.”

This money explo­sion has real consequences for how Amer­ic­ans feel about their system of justice. Accord­ing to a recent poll, 76% of voters feel that donors to judges campaigns received special treat­ment in court, and 26% of judges polled agree.

Thirty-three states will be elect­ing state Supreme Court judges this year, and the hot campaigns will include tele­vi­sion advert­ising.

This report includes inform­a­tion about advert­ising from Janu­ary 1 through Octo­ber 19 in state Supreme Court races in Alabama, Illinois, Missis­sippi, Nevada, and Ohio. Figures from the Idaho race that concluded earlier this year are also included in the Over­all Report (see Over­all report). The reports provide inform­a­tion about who is advert­ising and how often, the tone and content of those advert­ise­ments, and the estim­ated cost of the airtime.

Record number of state races include advert­ising

Two states that did not see tele­vi­sion advert­ising in their state 2000 Supreme Court elec­tions, Illinois and Nevada, have already recor­ded almost $200,000 in airtime.

This brings the total number of states with Supreme Court race advert­ising in 2002 up to six. Thats an increase of 50% over the four states with advert­ising in 2000. Nearly 26% of all spend­ing on advert­ising so far has been by special interest groups.

And in Texas, the Repub­lican Party is running ads urging citizens to vote for Repub­lican judges gener­ally, without naming a candid­ate or race. These ads are not included in this report, but are reflect­ive of the grow­ing intens­ity of judi­cial races.

We predicted that 2002 would break campaign finance records for Supreme Court races, but we are surprised to see how wide­spread tele­vi­sion advert­ising is so early in the elec­tion season. In the next two weeks, we will likely see an explo­sion of ads. We can only hope that the public confid­ence in the courts does not suffer from the infu­sion of special interest money into campaigns, says the Bren­nan Centers Deborah Gold­berg.

Ohio: A new fron­tier in issue advert­ising

A group called Compet­i­tion Ohio spent about $100,000 last week to air an issue ad support­ing local phone service compet­i­tion and the states two Repub­lican Supreme Court candid­ates (see Ohio report, figure 4). The ad also takes the oppor­tun­ity to criti­cize the largest local phone company. Both candid­ates, one a sitting State Supreme Court Justice and the other the Lieu­ten­ant Governor of the State, denounced the ad.

It is widely repor­ted that Compet­i­tion Ohio is funded by AT&T, which is seek­ing to increase its market share in the local Ohio phone busi­ness.

I have never seen an ad depict­ing a candid­ate that is asso­ci­ated so closely with specific corpor­ate interests, says Ms. Gold­berg. This is a new level of sham issue advocacy that could create a new level of cynicism among voters, who already fear that judi­cial campaign donors get pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in Amer­icas courts.

Offi­cials for Compet­i­tion Ohio indic­ated in an AP news report that they have no interest in effect­ing the outcome of the elec­tion, and claimed that the ad itself had little to do with the candid­ates.

Then why refer to the candid­ates at all? asks Ms. Gold­berg. To claim that they are capit­al­iz­ing on the atten­tion these races gener­ate is circu­lar, since it is group activ­ity like their own that has drawn atten­tion to Ohio judi­cial races in the first place.

Missis­sippi: Virginia-based group runs more ads than any other player in the race

The Virginia based Law Enforce­ment Alli­ance of Amer­ica (LEAA) began airing ads support­ing one Missis­sippi candid­ate, Jess Dickin­son, and another attack­ing his oppon­ent, Judge Chuck McRae early in Octo­ber. The LEAA has now spent more than $110,000 on airtime, spon­sor­ing nearly than 60% of the ads voters have seen regard­ing judi­cial elec­tions in that state, and nearly trip­ling the spend­ing by either candid­ate (see Missis­sippi report, Figure 1).

The LEAA has also tried to influ­ence the make-up of state Supreme Courts in other parts of the nation. For more on the LEAAs previ­ous campaign activ­ity, please see the Octo­ber 17 press release.

Reports refer­enced in this release:

Meth­od­o­logy

The Bren­nan Center is compil­ing a data­base of Supreme Court elec­tion advert­ising util­iz­ing inform­a­tion from a commer­cial firm that records each ad via satel­lite. The firm provides inform­a­tion about the loca­tion, dates, frequency, and estim­ated costs of the airings of each ad. Bren­nan Center research­ers use story­boards video captures of the ad at four-second inter­vals, with complete audio text to code the ads, docu­ment­ing the content, tone, and other inform­a­tion about each ad. Cost estim­ates are based on the aver­age cost of a media buy for the airing time and station. This calcu­la­tion does not include either premium costs often asso­ci­ated with ad buys or the costs of produc­tion.

Buying Time 2002

Buying Time reports, includ­ing links to story­boards, will be avail­able here through­out the campaign.

These reports are part of the Justice at Stake Campaign Monitor 2002, a system­atic effort to docu­ment the fund-rais­ing, tele­vi­sion ads, candid­ate speech and other campaign activ­ity in the increas­ingly conten­tious battles for the nations state courts. More inform­a­tion can be found at www.JusticeAtS­take.org.

The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law devel­ops and imple­ments a nonpar­tisan agenda of schol­ar­ship, public educa­tion, and legal action that promotes equal­ity and human dignity, while safe­guard­ing funda­mental freedoms. For more inform­a­tion, please contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998–6736 or visit www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org.