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JAS: TN Supreme Court Election Campaign TV Ad Spending Surpassed $1.4 M

Press release from Justice at Stake; August 7, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 7–Television ad spending in Tennessee’s Supreme Court election surged past $1.4 million, in a tough contest that attracted money from in-state and out-of-state sources. On Thursday, voters delivered new eight-year terms to all three incumbent Tennessee justices who sought retention to the five-member court.

“Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, but across America,” said Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “And to survive, Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices have had to become professional fundraisers, often soliciting money from parties who will appear before them in court.”

“The amount spent attempting to influence this retention election is deeply troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to worry about outside groups playing politics with their courts every time there is an election.”

According to estimates provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, more than $1.4 million worth of television advertising for and against the justices’ retention had aired by the time polls opened today. More than a million dollars’ worth of advertising contracts are also identified in publicly-available FCC files.

The Tennessee Forum, an anti-retention group funded by a PAC operated by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, spent an estimated $474,150 on TV ads. An out-of-state group, The State Government Leadership Foundation, also spent $63,390 on TV ads to unseat the justices. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-funded group, spent money on anti-retention radio campaign for which expenditures remain undisclosed.

The most spending on TV ads, however, came from the justices themselves, who spent an estimated $579,870 in joint ads defending against anti-retention efforts. Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a group formed by a local attorney, also spent $215,840 on TV ads to retain the judges, and Chief Justice Gary Wade funded TV ads totaling $94,980.

Skyrocketing judicial election spending has become the rule, not the exception in recent years. The $1.4-million Tennessee Supreme Court race follows a $1.3-million judicial primary in North Carolina in May, in which the Republican State Leadership Committee was a major spender, and an Arkansas Supreme Court race in which advertising spending doubled over the previous cycle.

The escalating spending on a judicial election in Tennessee matched a national trend of increasing expenditures on judicial elections since 2000, Brandenburg and Bannon noted. In recent years, the trend has spread to several states, such as Tennessee, that have worked to insulate courts from political pressure by establishing merit selection systems. Retention (up-or-down) elections held within the framework of merit selection systems have begun to attract spending and political pressure not previously seen in these races.

Television spending data for the Tennessee race, ads, and storyboards, are available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Tennessee 2014 webpage. For past spending in judicial elections, read The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts, a report released by the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports.

TV Methodology

All data on ad airings and spending estimates are calculated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.

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Supreme Retention, Replacement Campaign Spending Tops $1.5 M

Press release from Justice At Stake; August 1, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1 – In the final week before the August 7 retention election for three incumbent Tennessee Supreme Court justices, spending has soared over a million dollars with both pro-retention and anti-retention groups investing heavily in television advertising, Justice at Stake has found.

“Tennessee has joined a growing club of states where courts face a tidal wave of spending and political pressure,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. “As judicial campaigns grow worse, money and partisan interests can’t be allowed to undercut impartial justice.”

According to state disclosures, the three incumbents, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee, have raised over $1,045,000 among their three campaigns since the start of the year. In addition, a pro-retention group, Tennesseans for Fair Courts, has raised over $46,000 this year.

An anti-retention group, the Tennessee Forum, has raised more than $426,000 since the start of the year, including a contribution of $425,000 from RAAMPAC, the PAC set up by Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who has led efforts to unseat the justices.

In recent days, Ramsey also distributed via email a video instructing voters how to vote against retention of the justices.

In addition, the Republican State Leadership Committee reports expenditures of over $196,000 on an anti-retention direct mail effort, while two other groups have spent undisclosed amounts on anti-retention efforts via direct mail and broadcast advertising: Americans for Prosperity, and the State Government Leadership Foundation, an RSLC partner group. The SGLF has purchased television advertising contracts worth more than $23,000, according to FCC filings by local television stations.

Overall, public files available on the FCC website show that at least $987,000 has been spent to book television advertising contracts by pro- and anti-retention groups. Of this, more than $562,000 has been spent by the justices’ campaigns and supporters, while more than $425,000 has been spent by opponents, led by the Tennessee Forum with more than $402,000.

Links to videos of the ads are available on the Buying Time website of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

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National Group Worries Both Sides in Supreme Court Retention Fight Politicizing Judicial Rulings

Press release from Justice at Stake; July 21, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21 – The first television ads calling for voters to oust three Tennessee Supreme Court justices facing retention on August 7th have hit the state’s airwaves, as the retention election continues to heat up.

An ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claims the justices are “liberal on crime” and “threaten your freedoms.” It urges voters to “replace the liberal Supreme Court.” The group said these ads are part of statewide campaign that will air through the election.

Public records show that the Tennessee Forum has spent at least $119,055 on television ad contracts in the Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Tri-Cities and Chattanooga markets on several stations: WTVF ($30,800); WKRN ($11,150); WSMV ($13,670); WATE ($7,865); WVLT ($12,250); WBIR ($19,155); WDEF ($3,735); WDSI ($1,925); WJHL (16,065); and WTNZ ($2,440).

“Bare-knuckle Supreme Court campaigns have been spreading around the country, and now it’s Tennessee’s turn,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “The new ad is right out of the usual playbook, accusing judges of being soft on crime. As spending accelerates on both sides, yet another state court is being pressured to raise big money and answer to interest groups and politicians.”

“Campaign ads on both sides that politicize judges’ rulings in criminal cases are particularly troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Characterizing judges as soft or tough on crime could put pressure on judges to decide cases with an eye toward how their judgment will be portrayed in the next election cycle.

The Tennessee Forum and the Republican State Leadership Committee have also distributed direct mail pieces urging voters to replace the justices.

Public records show that campaigns to retain the justices have spent at least $201,495 so far on television ad contracts in the Memphis, Nashville, Jackson and Knoxville markets on several stations: WKRN ($23,010); three buys on WSMV ($20,340, $21,975, $9,175); WTVF ($21,850); WHBQ ($3,605); WLMT ($1,245); WREG ($16,230); three buys on WBIR ($14,245, $20,025, $6,915); WVLT ($8,165); WTNZ ($3,250); WATN ($3,320); WMC ($13,365); and two buys on WATE ($6,940, $7,840).

The ad highlights the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urges viewers to vote in favor of their retention.

Since 2000, Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics have documented spending in judicial elections in the New Politics of Judicial Elections series (click for the latest report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.) No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports. As noted in the latest New Politics report, fundraising and spending in retention elections are widely considered to be a recent phenomenon.

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National Impartial Courts Advocacy Group Red Flags High Spending in TN Judicial Retention Campaigns

Press release from Justice At Stake; July 11, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11 – Campaigns to retain three state Supreme Court justices up for retention in Tennessee’s August 7 election have purchased at least $107,610 worth of television airtime and begun airing ads on behalf of the candidates. The justices’ campaigns have reported a fundraising total of $598,261.99 according to state disclosure records. Meanwhile, the Republican State Leadership Committee registered with the state elections board on July 10th, reinforcing expectations that they plan to launch a campaign aimed at ousting the three justices. Another opposition group, the Tennessee Forum, began distributing direct mail pieces urging the defeat of the justices. Expenditures for the mailings have not yet been reported. The advertising and mailings come in the wake of extensive reporting on an effort by the state’s lieutenant governor to organize a campaign to oust the justices.

“In recent years we have seen state judicial retention races become more politicized,” noted Debra Erenberg, Director of State Affairs for Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “As a result, we are seeing judges raising large sums of money to defend themselves against efforts to oust them. That’s what is happening in Tennessee.”

Public records show that the campaigns of Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee have raised a total of $598,261.99. So far, campaigns to retain the justices have spent a total of $107,610 placing ads in the Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville markets on several stations: WSMV ($21,975); WTVF ($21,850); WHBQ ($3,605); WLMT ($1,245); WREG ($16,230); WBIR ($14,245); WVLT ($8,165) and three separate buys on WATE ($20,295) WATE-1, WATE-2 and WATE-3.

The ad highlights the justices’ records and urges voters to vote in favor of their retention.

In early May, Tennessee media began reporting on a plan by Lieutenant Governor Rom Ramsey to organize a campaign against the justices. According to media reports, the plan was created “to convince big business to put up potentially millions of dollars to oust three sitting justices,” and recommended a strategy accusing the justices of being soft on crime. Controversy surrounding the reports led Governor Bill Haslam to state publicly that he would neither join fellow Republicans in an effort to defeat the Democrat-appointed justices, nor defend the justices.

Most recently, Ramsey was reported as saying that he and allies have raised a million dollars for the effort to oust the justices and will begin their campaign soon. Fundraising totals have not yet been reported.

Since 2000, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice have documented spending in judicial elections in the New Politics of Judicial Elections series (click for the latest report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.) No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports. As noted in the latest New Politics report, fundraising and spending in retention elections are widely considered to be a recent phenomenon.