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Was the Interest Group TV Battle Over the Supreme Court a Fizzle?

January 19, 2006

For Immediate Release
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Contact Information:
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736
Jesse Rutledge, Justice at Stake, 202 588–9454

Was the Interest Group TV Battle Over the Supreme Court a Fizzle?
More Money Spent Over Filibuster Battle than on High Court Nominees

NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON, DC Though interest groups are continuing to run television advertisements for and against the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, the highly anticipated air war over his nomination did not reach the levels many political observers expected, according to the latest television airtime estimates. New data released today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Justice at Stake Campaign shows the groups combining to spend slightly under $2.2 million for and against Alito since his nomination on October 31. The data is complete through January 14.

The $2.2 million figure is dramatically less than both sides had vowed to spend on their campaigns, and less than the estimated $5-$10 million spent on TV airtime earlier in 2005, when groups pressured Senators on the judicial filibuster issue.

Recent reports suggest that funds may have been spent more on ground wars than on television advertising campaigns, said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.  It will be interesting to see whether this strategy spills over to judicial elections this year or whether spending on airtime continues its upward spiral.

According to press accounts, the chief conservative interest group, Progress for America (PFA), had promised to spend over $10 million if necessary to support from the President nominees to the Supreme Court. To date PFA has spent a total of slightly over $2 million on TV ads in connection with the Roberts, Miers and Alito nominations. More was spent defending Roberts, even though Alitos nomination has generated the most opposition.

Opponents of the Presidents nominees have also combined to spend slightly over $2 million, with about three-quarters of that money being spent in opposition to Judge Alito. The liberal groups remained silent on the nomination of Harriet Miers. The liberal advertising largely came under the umbrella of a coalition called, though NARAL,, and People for the American Way also sponsored television ads under their banners criticizing Roberts and Alito during the confirmation processes.

Perhaps the 2005 filibuster wars depleted interest group war chests in advance of the recent nomination battles, said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake. Whatever the reason, the air wars in the federal confirmation process were tame compared with recent advertising in state Supreme Court elections, where interest groups spent more than $7 million in 2004. (More data can be found in The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2004, published by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center and the Institute on Money and State Politics.)

The data for the project is gathered by TNS-Media Intelligence/CMAG, which tracks the nations top 100 broadcast markets and national cable advertising and provides estimates on the cost of each TV spot. Data and previous releases, as well as storyboards and streaming video of ads available to date, are available at and