Skip Navigation

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

October 31, 2002

For Immediate Release
October 31, 2002

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

One Hundred Percent Increase in Nubmer of States With TV Ads in State Supreme Court Races
Interest Groups Do 35% of Advertising

With Election Day only one week away, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law continues to release real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections. This is the fourth release, and two more will follow. All reports, storyboards of the ads, and other information are available here.

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 26 in state Supreme Court races in Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, and Ohio. Figures from the Texas race (for which there is only one ad) and the Idaho race (concluded earlier this year) are also included in the 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; groups advertising more

Television ads have been running in four states that did not see such advertising in their 2000 state Supreme Court elections (Idaho, Illinois, Nevada and Texas). This brings the total number of states with advertising in the 2002 Supreme Court races up to eight. Thats an increase of 100% over the four states with advertising in 2000.

In the 2000 campaigns, Brennan Center research showed that 27% of airtime expenditures were paid for by four interest groups. This year, seven interest groups have bought 35% of the airtime.

As interest groups expand their role in judicial elections, they shrink public confidence in fair and impartial courts, says Deborah Goldberg, Deputy Director of the Brennan Centers Democracy Program.

Mississippi: Virginia-based group dominates campaign

Mississippis 2002 campaign has already seen increased spending on airtime over 2000 by 150% with 10 days left in the campaign. Most of this increase in activity can be attributed to the Virginia-based anti-gun control, pro-death penalty interest group Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

The LEAA has now spent more than $148,000 on airtime, sponsoring 56% of the ads voters have seen regarding judicial elections in that state (see Mississippi report, Figure 1). The LEAA has spent more than twice as much on airtime as the top-spending candidate.

When a group dominates the campaign, the fact that no one knows who pays for their ads is even more disturbing, says Ms. Goldberg. This group is not only not disclosing their donors, they have actively fought any attempts to open their books.

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 at

Wheres the U.S. Chamber?

In 2000, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce figured prominently in the four states with advertising, running at least a dozen distinct ads. According to news reports earlier this year, Chamber spokespeople pledged to spend as much as $25 million in support of candidates for state Supreme Courts and Attorneys General. Just this month, the National Journal reported that the Chamber and the Business Roundtable have raised as much as $20 million in a joint campaign for this purpose. Yet, as of October 26, Brennan Center research shows no expenditures on airtime by the U.S. Chamber, and only a small buy by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. Chamber has indicated interest in these races and has raised money to influence them. The question is, where is that money going? asks Ms. Goldberg. Since only one of the groups advertising in these races has disclosed its donors, and current law doesnt demand disclosure from the others, America will never know who is funneling money into their judicial elections, or how the Chamber has chosen to be involved in them.

Reports referenced in this release:


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 in the top 100 media markets, covering more than 80% of the U.S. population. 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 throughout the campaign at

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

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