Press Releases

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.