Record TV Spending Nears $1.3 million in Arkansas Supreme Court Race

February 26, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – Candidates and outside groups have poured $1,290,380 into television ads in the lead-up to the March 1 election for two seats on the Arkansas Supreme Court, according to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. The previous annual total for TV spending in an Arkansas Supreme Court election was  $450, 320 (also for two seats), which was set in 2010, according to estimates by Kantar Media/CMAG.  Two national interest groups and three out of four candidates are airing ads.

The Republican State Leadership Committee began airing ads this week. To date, contracts worth at least $175,375 have been booked by RSLC, which has announced it intends to spend $250,000 on TV ads.  The Judicial Crisis Network, the other outside group spending in the supreme court election, has booked at least $604,405 in ad contracts. Together, the RSLC and Judicial Crisis Network are responsible for more than 60 percent of total spending on ad contracts. TV ad contracts booked by candidates’ campaigns stand at $510,600.

“The record-breaking amounts of money being spent in Arkansas this year, and the totals that we’ve seen around the country in recent years, are making judicial races resemble plain old politics,” said Alicia Bannon, Senior Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a co-author of Bankrolling the Bench, a comprehensive report on spending in the 2013-14 judicial elections by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. “When interest groups pour money into judicial races, it raises questions about whether judges will be able to fairly hear cases involving those interests.”

“This is a state Supreme Court race that is being dominated by out-of-state advertising money from national interest groups,” noted Susan Liss, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for fair courts and tracks judicial election spending. “When national groups try to hijack a state judicial election to serve their own strategic agendas, it’s unfair to voters, unfair to the state, and terrible for democracy and the courts. Real reform is needed to fix the system that allows this to happen.”

To date, TV ad contracts bought by candidates’ campaigns include at least $338,030 purchased by Justice Courtney Goodson in a race for Chief Justice.  Her challenger, Circuit Judge Dan Kemp, has spent $103,895. In addition, his campaign has benefited from the ads run by JCN against Goodson.

In a race for an Associate Justice seat, attorney Clark Mason’s campaign has bought TV ad contracts worth at least $68,675, while his opponent, Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, has not booked TV ad time. RSLC television advertising opposes Mason.

Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.  Totals are current as of 8 a.m. CT, Feb. 26.

According to state disclosure forms, the candidates’ campaigns have reported raising a total of $820,290 through Feb. 20 as follows: 

Kemp: $342,149

Goodson : $267,505

Mason: $95,286

Womack: $115,340