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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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Progressive Group Slams Nat’l Conservative Groups Involvement in Retention Race

Press release from the Center for American Progress; July 31, 2014: 

To: Interested Parties
From: Center for American Progress, Legal Progress
Re: National Right-Wing Groups Target Tennessee Judiciary

On August 7, Tennesseans will decide whether three Supreme Court judges appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (D), along with other appellate judges, stay on the bench. Governor Bill Haslam (R) will fill any vacancy should the Supreme Court judges lose.

This election has obvious implications for Tennessee citizens, but national conservative groups are using it as a clarion call for the right wing agenda. That is why the Republican State Leadership Committee, or RSLC, and the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, have joined the race.

Right wing to spend millions to make sure courts put corporations over middle class families in Tennessee

The president of the RSLC said it plans to spend “north of $5 million” to elect judges this year, including more than $200,000 so far in Tennessee. With one week left in the race, the RSLC could be the biggest player in the Tennessee Supreme Court election.

The RSLC has not shied away from sharing their goal: protecting their radical, right wing agenda that puts corporations over middle class families. According to RSLC’s president, “Republicans have had a significant amount of success at the state level, not only being elected to offices but implementing bold conservative solutions… Unfortunately, that’s running into a hard stop with judges who aren’t in touch with the public.”

The “bold conservative” policies that have been challenged in court include legislation that disenfranchises voters, keeps injured citizens from filing lawsuits, and cuts essential services like health care and education. After the RSLC helped elect Republican legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina, the state legislatures passed two of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws.

In order to protect the agendas of GOP politicians, the RSLC has become the first national party organization focused on electing judges. It’s not just the RSLC. Americans for Prosperity are also running ads criticizing three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot on August 7.

The RSLC has done this before

Tennessee is not the only state in which the RSLC has spent millions of dollars trying to influence judicial elections. North Carolina is another prime example. In North Carolina, four out of seven seats are up for grabs in November. It is the first election in more than a decade in which candidates have no access to public financing.

The RSLC was the biggest spender in the May 5 primary election for the North Carolina Supreme Court. Its money funded ads attacking an incumbent justice for being “soft” on “child predators,” citing her dissent in one case. During the 2012 election, as the North Carolina Supreme Court was deliberating in the redistricting lawsuit, RSLC spent more than $1 million to keep the court’s 4-3 conservative majority in place. And then Justice Paul Newby, who benefited from the RSLC’s money, refused to recuse himself in the redistricting lawsuit.

Conclusion

The RSLC is seeking to use judicial elections to promote its right-wing agenda at the expense of middle class Tennesseans. After helping elect conservative legislators, the RSLC saw those legislators roll back the clock on voting rights, limit access to justice, and allow more money in politics. Citizens are challenging many of these statutes in state courts, but the RSLC is spending millions of dollars to ensure that their legislators’ agendas are not thwarted by the courts. The RSLC wants state courts that will serve as rubber stamps for legislatures. Citizens would be better served by independent courts that decide each case based on the facts and the law, not politics or partisanship.