For Immediate Release
September 14, 2006
Television Advertising in Washington State Supreme Court Primaries Breaks Record
New York, NY Spending on television advertising in Washingtons Supreme Court elections shattered previous records this week, making Washington the next big battleground state for judicial races warn two national watchdog groups. Television advertising expenditures in the state have grown exponentially since 2000, when the groups first began studying state Supreme Court elections.
Estimates of television advertising expenditures obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law show that two interest groups alone have spent a total of $227,723 in Washington to run two television ads. That is almost three and a half times the total spending on television advertising in Washington Supreme Court races for the entire election cycle in 2004, when one candidate spent $66,127 (no special interest groups advertised on television in 2004). By comparison, in 2002 one special interest group spent a little more than half that figure, $37,156, and there was no television advertising in the 2000 Washington Supreme Court elections.
When special interests pour money into judicial campaigns to aid candidates they believe will be sympathetic to their causes, the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary is in danger, said James Sample, associate counsel at the Brennan Center.
Both of the ads running in Washington attack incumbent Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and support his opponent, John Groen. One ad sponsored by Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abusea national interest group based in Virginiafeatures a woman whose son was murdered saying, The Andress decision let my sons killer walk free-..if Justice Alexander hadnt voted for this decision, this wouldnt have happened. The advertisement does not explain the basis or context of the Courts Andress decision.
Another ad sponsored by Its Time for a Change, a political action committee affiliated with the Building Industry Association of Washington, says, Restricting property rights, increasing government power, the same old tired record of Justice Gerry Alexander.
Mudslinging is not uncommon when special interest groups weigh in on judicial races. A 2005 analysis by the Brennan Center and the Justice at Stake Campaign shows that 58 percent of the attack ads in the 2004 state Supreme Court campaigns nationwide were sponsored by outside groups (31 percent were paid for by a political party, and only 11 percent by the candidates themselves).
Candidates should take the high road and reject attack ads sponsored by special interest groups, who want judges to answer to them rather than to the law and the Constitution, said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign. He warned that, in the week leading up to the primary election, spending in Supreme Court races could increase and the tenor of television advertising could degenerate further.
Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center support voter education efforts such as those developed by the sponsors of votingforjudges.org, which place a premium on candidate qualifications and experience rather than their personal views on hot button political or legal issues they may have to rule on.