Total TV Spending in Arkansas Supreme Court Race Breaks Record

February 18, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – With just under two weeks to go before Election Day on March 1, total spending on TV ad contracts in Arkansas’ Supreme Court race exceeds the state’s previous TV spending record by more than $300,000. According to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, $798,315 has been spent on TV ads in the race so far. That breaks the previous record of $450, 320 which was set in 2010, according to estimates by Kantar Media/CMAG. 

TV spending continues to be dominated by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has booked at least $532,030 in ad contracts, according to FCC files. The JCN ads oppose Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, who is battling Circuit Judge Dan Kemp in a race for the Chief Justice seat.

Justice Goodson’s campaign has booked TV ad contracts worth at least $237,080, while Judge Kemp’s campaign has booked contracts worth at least $29,205. Circuit Judge Shawn Womack and attorney Clark Mason are competing for another open seat on the court, and have not booked TV ad contracts to date. Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.

Totals are current as of 8 a.m. CT, Feb. 18.

The state record for outside spending in a Supreme Court race fell last week. That figure, which to-date is totally accounted for by JCN’s TV ads, now stands at $532,030. The previous record of $164,560 was recorded in 2014.

“It’s not surprising that both outside spending and total television spending are higher than ever before in Arkansas,” 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. “Money has become a big factor in judicial elections, especially funds from outside groups that don’t have to disclose donors. As election season continues, I won’t be surprised if records continue to fall around the country.”

“Arkansas is experiencing a record-smashing Supreme Court race, due in large part to spending by an outside group that doesn’t disclose its donors,” said Susan Liss, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for fair courts and tracks judicial election spending. “With the evidence growing that campaign spending has an impact on courtroom rulings, there’s an urgent need for real fixes that can get money and partisan politics out of judicial selection.”

The JCN has been a major spender in state Supreme Court races nationwide for several years.  According to The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12, JCN was ninth on a list of the ten top spenders in judicial elections nationwide for the cycle. In the most recent election cycle, 2013-14, JCN gave $528,000  to groups that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Wisconsin and Tennessee.

According to state disclosure forms, the candidates themselves have reported raising a total of $667,357, as follows: 

Kemp:  $281,451

Goodson: $221,155

Mason: $67,836

Womack: $96,915