National Conservative Group Begins Spending in Montana Supreme Court Race

October 8, 2014

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) began airing television ads in Montana’s state Supreme court election this week, as spending by non-candidate groups makes its entrance into the race. The RSLC ad promotes candidate Lawrence VanDyke, who is challenging incumbent Justice Michael Wheat. Meanwhile, another group, Montanans for Liberty and Justice, also aired an ad this week opposing VanDyke.

“The flood of special interest spending in state judicial elections is truly alarming,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “When outside groups spend money to reshape state courts, everyone loses. Judges are forced to compete with deep-pocketed special interest groups. Montanans who appear before the court have to worry whether a judge is being influenced by special interest dollars. We need to keep politics out of our courts.”

“The appearance of outside spending opens a new chapter in Montana’s Supreme Court race, especially as it includes a national group airing its first TV ads in this fall’s state Supreme Court elections,” said Executive Director Bert Brandenburg of Justice at Stake. “Montana is the fourth state this year to be caught up in the explosion of spending by out-of-state groups in judicial races.”

Earlier this year, the RSLC announced its Judicial Fairness Initiative, a plan to assist conservative candidates in winning election to state benches. Montana is on a list of six states the RSLC has told media it intends to focus on, and is the first state to see RSLC ads this fall. Other states reportedly on the list include Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, and Texas.

Two other states, North Carolina and Tennessee, have already seen RSLC-linked spending in Supreme Court primaries and retention races. The RSLC remains the only national political group to announce a campaign to be involved in state judicial elections this year.

Links to the ads can be found here.

The following is a breakdown of spending in Montana’s Supreme Court races on file to date with the FCC:

  • The Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Initiative Montana PAC has booked 219 ads for a gross airtime cost more than $52,000. Local media reports suggest that up to $110,000 in additional TV airtime purchases may have been secured and also point to flyers distributed by the RSLC.  
  • Michael Wheat has 52 ads booked for nearly $14,000 in gross airtime. The ads in Missoula and Bozeman are slated to end this week.
  • Montanans for Liberty and Justice has booked 69 ads for more than $47,000 in gross airtime.

No advertising has been identified in connection with the other contested Montana Supreme Court race between Justice James Rice and W. David Herbert.

FCC records were identified from the following stations: KPAX, KBZK, KHMT, KSVI, KTMF, and KRTV.

Contract purchase totals were current as of 11 a.m. EDT on Oct. 8. The FCC public files are continually updated.