Fifty Percent Increase In Number of States With TV Ads In State Supreme Court Races

October 23, 2002

For Immediate Release
October 23 2002

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998-6736

Fifty Percent Increase in Number of States With TV Ads in State Supreme Court Races
Ohio Has Already Topped the $1 Million Mark

During the 2002 election season, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is releasing real-time reports on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections. The groundbreaking study The New Politics of Judicial Elections, co-authored by the Center, previously documented that 2000 was a “watershed year for big money, special interest pressure, and TV advertising in state Supreme Court campaigns.”

This money explosion has real consequences for how Americans feel about their system of justice. According to a recent poll, 76% of voters feel that donors to judges campaigns received special treatment in court, and 26% of judges polled agree.

Thirty-three states will be electing state Supreme Court judges this year, and the hot campaigns will include television advertising.

This report includes information about advertising from January 1 through October 19 in state Supreme Court races in Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, and Ohio. Figures from the Idaho race that concluded earlier this year are also included in the Overall Report (see Overall report). The reports provide information about who is advertising and how often, the tone and content of those advertisements, and the estimated cost of the airtime.

Record number of state races include advertising

Two states that did not see television advertising in their state 2000 Supreme Court elections, Illinois and Nevada, have already recorded almost $200,000 in airtime.

This brings the total number of states with Supreme Court race advertising in 2002 up to six. Thats an increase of 50% over the four states with advertising in 2000. Nearly 26% of all spending on advertising so far has been by special interest groups.

And in Texas, the Republican Party is running ads urging citizens to vote for Republican judges generally, without naming a candidate or race. These ads are not included in this report, but are reflective of the growing intensity of judicial races.

We predicted that 2002 would break campaign finance records for Supreme Court races, but we are surprised to see how widespread television advertising is so early in the election season. In the next two weeks, we will likely see an explosion of ads. We can only hope that the public confidence in the courts does not suffer from the infusion of special interest money into campaigns, says the Brennan Centers Deborah Goldberg.

Ohio: A new frontier in issue advertising

A group called Competition Ohio spent about $100,000 last week to air an issue ad supporting local phone service competition and the states two Republican Supreme Court candidates (see Ohio report, figure 4). The ad also takes the opportunity to criticize the largest local phone company. Both candidates, one a sitting State Supreme Court Justice and the other the Lieutenant Governor of the State, denounced the ad.

It is widely reported that Competition Ohio is funded by AT&T, which is seeking to increase its market share in the local Ohio phone business.

I have never seen an ad depicting a candidate that is associated so closely with specific corporate interests, says Ms. Goldberg. This is a new level of sham issue advocacy that could create a new level of cynicism among voters, who already fear that judicial campaign donors get preferential treatment in Americas courts.

Officials for Competition Ohio indicated in an AP news report that they have no interest in effecting the outcome of the election, and claimed that the ad itself had little to do with the candidates.

Then why refer to the candidates at all? asks Ms. Goldberg. To claim that they are capitalizing on the attention these races generate is circular, since it is group activity like their own that has drawn attention to Ohio judicial races in the first place.

Mississippi: Virginia-based group runs more ads than any other player in the race

The Virginia based Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) began airing ads supporting one Mississippi candidate, Jess Dickinson, and another attacking his opponent, Judge Chuck McRae early in October. The LEAA has now spent more than $110,000 on airtime, sponsoring nearly than 60% of the ads voters have seen regarding judicial elections in that state, and nearly tripling the spending by either candidate (see Mississippi report, Figure 1).

The LEAA has also tried to influence the make-up of state Supreme Courts in other parts of the nation. For more on the LEAAs previous campaign activity, please see the October 17 press release.

Reports referenced in this release:

Methodology

The Brennan Center is compiling a database of Supreme Court election advertising utilizing information from a commercial firm that records each ad via satellite. The firm provides information about the location, dates, frequency, and estimated costs of the airings of each ad. Brennan Center researchers use storyboards video captures of the ad at four-second intervals, with complete audio text to code the ads, documenting the content, tone, and other information about each ad. Cost estimates are based on the average cost of a media buy for the airing time and station. This calculation does not include either premium costs often associated with ad buys or the costs of production.

Buying Time 2002

Buying Time reports, including links to storyboards, will be available here throughout the campaign.

These reports are part of the Justice at Stake Campaign Monitor 2002, a systematic effort to document the fund-raising, television ads, candidate speech and other campaign activity in the increasingly contentious battles for the nations state courts. More information can be found at www.JusticeAtStake.org.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law develops and implements a nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms. For more information, please contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998-6736 or visit www.brennancenter.org.