Outside TV Spending in Arkansas Supreme Court Race Breaks State Record

February 8, 2016

National Group’s Spending Soars Past $336,000

WASHINGTON, DC – The Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Crisis Network has poured $336,245 into television ad contracts to air ahead of Arkansas’ March 1 Supreme Court race, according to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. This figure breaks the state’s previous record for outside spending in a Supreme Court race.

The spending totals to date more than double Arkansas’ previous high of $164,560 in outside spending according to Bankrolling the Bench, a comprehensive look at state supreme court election spending in 2013-14 by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Outside spending by interest groups was not recorded in the state prior to the 2014 race.

The JCN-sponsored ad targets incumbent Justice Courtney Goodson as an “insider” who accepts money from trial lawyers. Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.

Meanwhile, TV ad contracts booked by the Goodson campaign have risen to $104,805, according to FCC records. Totals were current as of 11 am CT, February 8.

“The fact that outside spending in Arkansas has already doubled from the last cycle highlights its growing importance in judicial elections in the state, and nationwide,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a co-author of Bankrolling the Bench. “Increased outside spending is a troubling trend because groups like the Judicial Crisis Network are not required to disclose their donors, leaving voters in the dark about who is really trying to influence judicial elections. Outside groups are also much more likely than candidates to go negative.”

“Everyone in Arkansas should be concerned about this national organization pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into a state judicial race to shape its high court, and they should be asking tough questions,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks judicial election spending and advocates for fair and impartial courts. “Why are they spending, and to what end?  Most importantly, what return on investment are they anticipating?”

Heightened outside spending in Arkansas is consistent with national trends. In 2013-14, outside spending by interest groups accounted for a record 29 percent of total spending in Supreme Court races nationwide.

Justice Goodson is facing Circuit Judge Dan Kemp in a contest for Chief Justice. Circuit Judge Shawn Womack and attorney Clark Mason are competing for another open seat on the court. Kemp, Womack and Mason have not booked any TV ads, according to records. Arkansas’ Supreme Court elections are nonpartisan.

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network has been a major spender in state Supreme Court races nationwide for several years. According to Bankrolling the Bench, JCN gave $528,000 last cycle to groups that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on judicial elections in Wisconsin and Tennessee. In 2012, the group spent at least $600,000 on TV advertising opposing a Supreme Court candidate, Bridget McCormack, in Michigan.

As of their last filing deadline for receipts through December 31, the candidates themselves have reported raising: 

Kemp:  $169,961.00Goodson: $113,854.55

Mason: $49,001.00

Womack: $47,115.00