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Supreme Court Television Advertising Poised to Break 2004 Record

October 26, 2006

For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 26, 2006

Contact Information
James Sample, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–992–8648
Jesse Rutledge, Justice at Stake, 202–588–9454

Supreme Court Television Advertising Poised to Break 2004 Record

New York, NY With less than two weeks to Election Day, spending on television advertising in Supreme Court campaigns is on pace to break the previous national record set in 2004, warned two watchdog groups. At this point in the 2004 election cycle, candidates, special interest groups, and political parties had spent a little more than $8 million. This years expenditures to date are nearly $8.3 million.

Spending by political parties has actually plummeted this year, from almost $1.6 million in 2004 to $54,200, but a $1.3 million surge in special interest expenditures on television advertising and a $500,000 jump in candidate advertising expenditures account for this years potential record-setting figures. Most of the political party spending in 2004 was in Illinois, which has no Supreme Court elections this year, though both political parties are making substantial contributions to buying media time in a record-setting Court of Appeals campaign.

The dramatic increase in the role of special interest spending creates a perception that judges are accountable to particular constituencies rather than to the rule of law, said James Sample, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

Of the twelve states with contested Supreme Court elections this year, television ads have already appeared in every one but Texas. In seven statesAlabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washingtoncandidates and groups have spent more this year than they had at this point in 2004. In 2000, only 1 in 4 states holding high court campaigns saw any TV ads.

Seven of the eight special interest groups sponsoring television advertising in Supreme Court campaigns this year are pro-business groups, accounting for nearly $3.5 million—or about 95 percent—of expenditures. By comparison, the lone group from the left of the political spectrum active on the airwaves, Washington states Citizens to Uphold the Constitution has spent a mere $228,749, accounting for the other 5 percent.

With hardball TV ads flooding judicial campaigns, every state that elects judges needs to consider serious reforms to keep their courts fair and impartial, said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign.

Five of the eleven ads sponsored by special interest groups this year attack a candidate, and even ads sponsored by the candidates are becoming increasingly negative as the election nears. In Alabama, challenger Sue Bell Cobb says of incumbent Chief Justice Drayton Nabers: Hes backed by huge sums by oil and insurance companies, and a newspaper called him shameful. In turn, a Nabers ad says that Cobb took thousands from the casino bosses and that Cobb is too liberal for Alabama.

In contrast, a new ad in Kentucky sponsored by Judge Bill Cunningham, who is running for the state Supreme Court, emphasizes the proper role of a judge. In the ad Cunningham explains: Judicial candidates should not make statements on public issues because it creates an agenda, and once they have an agenda they become legislative judges-We need to elect judges that will protect independence and impartiality in the court system so as to protect basic freedoms for our children and our grandchildren.