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TV Ad Buys in Michigan Supreme Court Races Near $700,000

Judicial candidates in Michigan are stockpiling airtime for yet another campaign ad war this Election cycle, with nearly $690,000 worth of TV airtime already on the books.

September 26, 2014

Contact: Seth Hoy,, (646) 292–8369 or Laurie Kinney, lkin­ney@justiceats­, 202–588–9454

Michigan is on track for another high-spend­ing ad war in its Supreme Court races this fall, as candid­ates have already booked nearly $690,000 worth of TV airtime, accord­ing to an analysis of publicly avail­able Federal Commu­nic­a­tions Commis­sion (FCC) files by the Bren­nan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. More than $433,000 worth of TV ads were booked by just one Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Richard Bern­stein.

There are three open seats on Michigan’s Supreme Court this year and eight candid­ates vying for them. Three candid­ates are running for a partial term to fill the seat currently held by Justice David Vivi­ano —Justice Vivi­ano himself, Deborah Thomas, and Kerry Morgan. Two addi­tional full-term seats will also be on the ballot — one held by Justice Brian Zahra, who is seek­ing reelec­tion, and one open seat created by the retire­ment of Justice Michael Cavanagh. Justice Zahra, James Robert Redford, Bill Murphy, Dough Dern, and Richard Bern­stein are running for these two seats. The top two vote-getters will serve eight-year terms.

“Judi­cial candid­ates in Michigan are stock­pil­ing airtime for yet another campaign ad war this cycle,” said Alicia Bannon, Coun­sel for the Bren­nan Center for Justice. “Arms race spend­ing has no place in a supreme court elec­tion. Judges should spend their time decid­ing cases, not worry­ing about fundrais­ing.”

“History may be about to repeat itself in Michigan, which had the most expens­ive state Supreme Court race in the coun­try in 2012,” added Exec­ut­ive Director Bert Branden­burg of Justice at Stake, which monit­ors spend­ing in state judi­cial elec­tions. “For more than a decade, Michigan judges have been pres­sured to raise grow­ing amounts of money from parties who may appear before them in court.”

“It is regret­table that Supreme Court candid­ates feel forced to accu­mu­late war chests and spend so much money,” said Rich Robin­son, Exec­ut­ive Director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “We’re also concerned about the possib­il­ity of non-candid­ate money coming into the race, which was a major factor in 2012 when groups that don’t disclose their donors spent heav­ily in the Supreme Court elec­tion. We hope that any spend­ing this year will come from commit­tees that do disclose their donors.”

The follow­ing is a break­down of candid­ate spend­ing in Michigan’s Supreme Court races to date:

  • The two Repub­lican incum­bent justices, Richard Zahra and David Vivi­ano have jointly booked a total of 228 slots worth nearly $254,000 in airtime through Nov. 3. Zahra and Vivi­ano, whose campaigns share a treas­urer, raised more than $1.3 million combined through the Sept. 12 state disclos­ure dead­line. Their ads are set to begin Oct. 20, FCC records show.
  • Lawyer Richard Bern­stein booked more than 1,500 ads set to start on Oct. 14 in major markets, with gross airtime total­ing more than $433,000. Bern­stein repor­ted rais­ing nearly $439,000 through Sept. 12. Bern­stein’s disclos­ure did not list any TV ad buys, but repor­ted a $150,000 expendit­ure on bill­boards. His campaign repor­ted a balance of nearly $164,000 on Sept. 12.
  • James Robert Redford, a circuit court judge and Repub­lican nominee, repor­ted rais­ing just over $300,000 in contri­bu­tions and had a balance of nearly $218,000 on Sept. 12.
  • Deborah Thomas, a circuit court judge and Demo­crat nominee, repor­ted collect­ing some $29,000 and spend­ing $20,000 through Sept. 12.
  • Bill Murphy, chief judge on the state Court of Appeals and a Demo­crat nominee, repor­ted nearly $37,000 in contri­bu­tions and had nearly $35,000 remain­ing on Sept. 12.
  • Doug Dern, a lawyer and Natural Law Party nominee, did not have a disclos­ure form on file with the Michigan Depart­ment of State. Nor did Kerry L. Morgan, the Liber­tarian Party nominee for the partial-term seat.

No non-candid­ate groups were iden­ti­fied as having booked airtime in connec­tion with the Michigan Supreme Court race.

FCC records were iden­ti­fied from the follow­ing Michigan TV stations: WMYD, WADL, WXYZ, WKBD, WWJ, WJRT, WSMH, EWMT, WWMT, WZZM, WLNS, WLAJ, WHTV, WNEM, WDIV, WLIX, WLUC, WPBN, WGTU, WWTV, WFQX.

In 2012, costs for the Supreme Court race reached more than $13 million, accord­ing to a study by Justice at Stake, the Bren­nan Center for Justice, and the National Insti­tute on Money in State Polit­ics. A study by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network estim­ated total spend­ing that year was even higher, reach­ing nearly $18.9 million.

Contract purchase totals were current as of 5 pm EDT on Sept. 24. The FCC public files are continu­ally updated.