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TV Ad Spending in Judicial Races Surpasses $9.1 Million

Total TV ad spending for state Supreme Court races has surged past $9.1 million, as special interest groups continue to use their pocketbooks to tilt the scales of justice in their favor.

October 24, 2014

Political Parties and Outside Groups Continue to Outspend Candidates

Contact: Seth Hoy,, 646-­292-­8369 or Laurie Kinney,, 202–588–9454 

New York, NY – With less than two weeks to November 4th, political parties, outside groups, and state Supreme Court candidates have spent more than $9.1 million on TV ads this election cycle, including primaries and off cycle elections, according to FCC filings, campaign financial disclosures, and estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG analyzed by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. For just the general election, TV ad spending for state Supreme Court races totals more than $6.1 million.

Political parties and outside groups have dominated TV ad spending this year with nearly 63 percent of the total ad buys since January, according to an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data. Michigan leads the nation in TV ad spending with approximately $2.9 million spent to date, according to FCC filings and Kantar Media/CMAG estimates.

“This high level of spending is consistent with the spending we saw in 2010 midterm judicial races,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Special interest groups continue to dump money into state Supreme Court races in an attempt to stack the deck in their favor. Voters should feel like our courts are fair and impartial, not political playgrounds where business interests and lawyers can tilt the scales of justice with their pocketbooks.”

“Once again, large sums are being spent to buy up courts,” said Executive Director Bert Brandenburg of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money and politics in judicial elections. “Dark money and hardball politics are turning judicial campaigns into auctions, and judges are trapped in the middle, pressured to answer to donors and supporters who appear before them in court. Every state that elects judges needs to take steps to keep cash out of the courtroom.”

Although TV ad spending will increase dramatically in the remaining days before Election Day, activity in several states stands out:

Last Minute Spending Surge in Illinois Retention Race

A group called “Campaign for 2016” has spent $826,700 this month on a TV ad attacking Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who is seeking retention for a new 10-year term, according to state disclosure forms. The ad targets Justice Karmeier for overturning multimillion dollar judgments against Philip Morris and State Farm in two high-profile cases, after the companies “push[ed] four million dollars” into Justice Karmeier’s 2004 election. Justice Karmeier declined requests for recusal in both cases and disputes the characterization of the companies’ involvement in his campaign.

Campaign for 2016 has collected $1.3 million in contributions, all from lawyers and law firms involved in the Philip Morris and State Farm cases, according to according to state campaign disclosures.

Republican Party Spends Big in Michigan

The Michigan Republican Party has spent an estimated $1,761,200 on a TV ad supporting David Viviano, Brian Zahra, and James Robert Redford, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG. Candidate spending in Michigan’s Supreme Court race is also high — FCC filings show David Viviano, Brian Zahra, and Richard Bernstein have booked 3,078 ads totaling $1,224,697. Together, this spending totals $2,985,897 — the highest spending documented so far this fall.

Conservative Group Continues to Target State Judicial Races

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which announced a “Judicial Fairness Initiative” earlier this year to support conservative judges and candidates, continues spending on targeted state judicial races.

In Montana, the RSLC has booked more than $144,490 in TV ad purchases, according to FCC data, with a criminal justice-themed ad supporting Supreme Court candidate Lawrence VanDyke in his race against incumbent Justice Michael Wheat.

The RSLC has also infused money into a lower court race in Missouri, contributing $100,000 to Cole County circuit judge candidate Brian Stumpe through its Missouri-based PAC. The PAC is reportedly intending to spend an additional $100,000 in support of Stumpe’s campaign as well.  Cole County contains the state capital and hears many high-profile cases challenging state laws.  In a tie-dye themed ad, the RSLC characterizes incumbent Judge Pat Joyce as siding with “radical environmentalists.”

In the May 6th North Carolina Supreme Court primary, the RSLC contributed $900,000 to Justice for All NC, a group that spent significant sums on attack ads against Justice Robin Hudson. The RSLC also gave money to the Tennessee Forum during Tennessee’s retention elections this summer. The Tennessee Forum aired ads accusing the Tennessee Supreme Court justices up for retention of being “liberal on crime.”

Candidate Spending Up in North Carolina

Candidates for four seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court have been the only source of TV spending this fall, responsible for over $1.6 million in TV ad buys, in contrast to an avalanche of TV spending from outside groups in the state’s primary. The nine North Carolina judicial candidates have raised more than $2.2 million this cycle, due in part to the elimination of the state’s public financing program back in 2013. Since 2008, total candidate fundraising had not surpassed the $200,000 mark in any race.

In the state’s May 6th Supreme Court primary, 76 percent of the $1.3 million spent was raised by two groups, Justice for All North Carolina and North Carolina Chamber IE PAC.

TV ads can be viewed on the Brennan Center’s Buying Time 2014 page here.


Totals reflect data from FCC filings, campaign financial disclosures, and estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG.


  • Group Spending
    • Campaign for 2016: $826,700


  • Candidate Spending
    • Judith French and Sharon Kennedy: $223,025

New Mexico

  • Group Spending
    • Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission: $74,965


  • Group Spending – $314,060
    • Republican State Leadership Committee: $144,490
    • Montanans for Liberty and Justice: $169,570
  • Candidate Spending
    • Mike Wheat: $29,260


  • Candidate Spending – $1,224,697
    • Richard Bernstein: $574,280
    • Brian Zahra and David Viviano: $650,417
  • Party Spending
    • Michigan Republican Party: $1,761,200

North Carolina

  • Candidate Spending – $1,679,919
    • Mark Davis (Court of Appeals candidate) and Sam Ervin: $458,128
    • Mark Martin and Eric Levinson: $176,477
    • Mark Martin: $182,112
    • Michael Robinson and John Bryant (Wake County Court candidate): $133,180
    • Michael Robinson: $9,651
    • Robert N. Hunter Jr.: $15,375
    • Lucy Inman (Court of Appeals candidate) and Robert N. Hunter Jr.: $22,400
    • Sam Ervin: $7,525
    • Mark Martin and Michael Robinson: $181,961
    • Eric Levinson and Michael Robinson: $101,175
    • Eric Levinson: $37,500
    • Robin Hudson and Sam Ervin: $92,625
    • Cheri Beasley and Robin Hudson: $261,810

NOTE: Many ads were booked jointly by two candidates. In some instances, this reflects the candidates’ decision to run combined campaign ads together. In other instances, it reflects several TV buys that were made by one ad agency representing multiple candidates.

FCC advertising data are based on publicly available contract files uploaded to the FCC website. Please note that the FCC site is continually updated, and totals currently displayed on the FCC site may have changed since the publication of totals in this release.          

Spending estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG are based on captured satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.