Categories
Press Releases

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.

Categories
Press Releases

Stewart Co Election Commish Chair Files Election Finance Complaint Against Justices

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 5, 2014:

NASHVILLE — A complaint recently filed with the Registry of Election Finance and made available to the Tennessee Forum levels three new charges at the campaign to retain Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade. The complaint follows an earlier charge against Judge Gary Wade and establishes a pattern of disregard for campaign law and judicial ethics by the judges.

“This latest complaint is clear, concise and well-documented. With the election only days away, I implore Judges Clark, Lee and Wade to answer these charges immediately,” said Susan Kaestner. “The voters have a right to know whether judges seeking eight-year terms as the final arbiter of law and justice in the state have themselves been violating the law.”

“If we can’t trust these judges to follow simple campaign laws, how can we trust them to properly interpret the constitution and laws of this state?”

In the complaint, Robert Mallory says the joint campaign effort of the three judges is coordinating with the newly formed Tennesseans for Fair Courts PAC in violation of Tennessee state law. Mallory, who serves as Chairman of the Stewart County Election Commission, notes that the two groups’ current television ads (seen here and here) contain almost identical messages delivered in a similar way.

Mallory also points out that the campaign’s signs are illegal. Mallory references a news report that includes Justice Sharon Lee placing a campaign yard sign that does not comply with campaign finance law disclosure requirements, which is a criminal violation.

Mallory also notes that the coordinated campaign for the three judges’ Facebook page, which became active in May, carries a URL which is identical in name to the Tennessee for Fair Courts PAC which was not formed until June.

The PAC also failed to disclose whether expenditures were either in-kind or independent or in support of or opposing a particular candidate as required by campaign finance regulations.

A copy of the complaint can be accessed by clicking here.

Categories
Press Releases

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.

Categories
Press Releases

TN Forum: Retention Campaign Mostly Funded by Lobbyists, Judges, Lawyers

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — According to the most recent financial disclosures available at the Tennessee Registry of Elections website, Tennessee’s liberal Supreme Court is relying almost exclusively on lobbyists, judges and lawyers for their campaign cash. Nearly 70% of the Supreme Court’s coordinated campaign contributions during the most recent reporting period came from the legal community.

“Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade are clearly relying on their buddies on the bench and lawyers who must appear before them to fund their campaign,” said Susan Kaestner of the Tennessee Forum. “Accepting, much less soliciting, cash from lawyers who may have to practice in your court brings up a whole host of ethical dilemmas.”

“These lawyers were either trying to curry favor or felt intimidated into giving,” said Kaestner. “Nothing good can come from either of those scenarios.”

“I find it deeply concerning that there are at least two lobbyists on these disclosures. It is against the law for lobbyists to give to gubernatorial or legislative candidates. If you are a judge trying to remain truly independent, the last thing you want is to be seen cozying up to a lobbyist. Special interest money handed over straight from lobbyists to sitting justices has no place in our Supreme Court.”

“This is a campaign that is funded by trial lawyers and conducted by Obama operatives,” stated Kaestner. “Neither this court nor its campaign represents the average Tennessean in any way, shape or form.”

Each member of the court had an overwhelming majority of their campaign dollars come from the legal community during the most recent reporting period. Sharon Lee received the highest dollar amount at $73,780.00 which amounted to 71.55% of her contributions. Connie Clark’s total lawyer contributions clocked in at $55,685 or 70.19% and Gary Wade received 63.78% of his donations from lawyers which amounted to $53,239.

Altogether the Supreme Court coordinated campaign received $182,704 from lawyers, judges or lobbyists. That’s 68.7% of the total contributions taken in.

At least two people currently registered to lobby in Tennessee appear on the disclosures. Emily Ogden gave $250 to Sharon Lee and Candy Toler gave $100 to Gary Wade.

Tennessee Code Annotated 3-6-304(j) states: “No lobbyist shall offer or make any campaign contribution, including any in-kind contribution, to or on behalf of the governor or any member of the general assembly or any candidate for the office of governor, state senator or state representative.”

Categories
Press Releases

TN Forum: Finance Disclosures Show Supremes Campaign Linked to D.C. Dems

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — The latest campaign financial disclosures from Supreme Court judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade reveal more links to Washington, D.C. Democrats. An examination of the latest documents reveal more money changing hands between Tennessee’s Supreme Court judges and political operatives for Obama and Ford Jr.

“This disclosure eliminates any doubt,” said Susan Kaestner. “These judges are partisan Democrats, period. Tennessee does not need a Supreme Court that relies on Obama liberals to distort their records and make them appear to be something they are not.”

“Tennessee has utterly rejected Barack Obama and D.C. Democrats. It is time for Tennessee to vote replace on Democrats Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade,” Kaestner concluded.

Clark, Lee and Wade spent nearly $25,000 on media production with Democrat firm, Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly, LLC. MVAR bills itself as a “full-service political media firm with experience helping Democrats and progressive causes.” According to its website, the firm was the media team for the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. Other clients include Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D-CT).

Clark, Lee and Wade paid $300,000 to a Democrat advertising firm called Buying Time, LLC. The firm’s founder, Cathie Herrick boasts on the firm’s webpage that she handled day to day operations for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996.

Gary Wade paid Hart Research Associates $16,000 for research and polling. Hart Associates is the firm of noted Democratic pollster Peter Hart. Hart has worked for Hubert Humphrey, Lloyd Bentsen and Jay Rockefeller. Partners in his firm have represented noted liberals like Dianne Feinstein and Bernie Sanders.

Previous media reports identified three Democrat operatives working for the judges — including one who worked in Barack Obama’s White House and one who led Harold Ford Jr.’s campaign against Sen. Bob Corker. The disclosure confirms Clark, Lee and Wade continue to retain the services of former Obama operative Victoria McCullough, Harold Ford, Jr. communications director Carol Andrews and Democrat lobbyist Brenda Gadd.

Categories
Press Releases

TN Right to Life Joins Fight to Unseat Supremes

Press release from the Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Late yesterday, Tennessee Right to Life, the largest pro-life organization in Tennessee, put the full weight of its organization behind the effort to replace Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

“The replacement effort has been building support and catching fire across the state,” said Susan Kaestner, President of The Tennessee Forum. “We are pleased to see Tennessee Right to Life speaking out on the importance of replacing the liberals on our Supreme Court.”

Tennessee Right to Life’s full endorsement letter is below.

Dear Members of Tennessee Right to Life,

Early voting is underway and Tennessee Right to Life is receiving many inquiries regarding the August 7 vote to replace three Supreme Court Justices.

Tennessee Right to Life is leading the critical campaign to win passage of Amendment 1 in the November election. It is important to note, however, that Amendment 1 is only necessary because of the judicial arrogance of the Tennessee Supreme Court. In the landmark case of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist, members of the state Supreme Court imagined themselves entitled to amend our Tennessee Constitution on the matter of abortion without the consent of Tennessee’s people.

Not only were common sense safeguards for the unborn and abortion-vulnerable women immediately stripped from state law books, so was any opportunity to adapt the challenged laws because the Tennessee Supreme Court established abortion as a so-called “fundamental right” in the Tennessee Constitution. With their radical pro-abortion ruling favoring Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, activist judges made clear that efforts by the people and our elected officials to “infringe” on this new right would not be tolerated.

So now we find ourselves facing the most significant and expensive abortion vote ever in Tennessee to nullify the Court’s terrible ruling and restore the rights of Tennesseans to have a voice in abortion policy and regulation.

Equally important is the matter of judges who place their policy preferences over those of the people. The opportunity to “replace” Justices Clark, Lee and Wade sends a strong message that we expect our judges to interpret the Constitution, not re-write it. Each was appointed by a pro-abortion Governor and enjoys the support of a pro-abortion establishment actively working to defeat pro-life Amendment 1.

For members seeking direction from Tennessee Right to Life PAC as to how your votes can best serve the cause of Life and the unborn in our state, we respectfully urge your votes to REPLACE Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

Toward that Goal,

Brian Harris, President
Tennessee Right to Life

Categories
Press Releases

Ads For, Against Retention of State Supreme Court Justices Flood TN Airwaves

Press release from Justice At Stake; July 23, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23 – A significant new barrage of politically-charged campaign ads hit Tennessee airwaves this week targeting three state Supreme Court justices up for retention. Among the out-of-state groups spending money to unseat the justices is Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-linked dark money group that also spent money to influence state Supreme Court races in North Carolina and Florida in 2012. Other groups seeking to influence Tennessee’s retention election include the Republican State Leadership Committee, which distributed fliers, and the State Government Leadership Foundation.

The state is seeing a surge of ads both for and against Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee as the August 7 retention election approaches. Early voting began July 18. While much of the advertising spending is likely to remain undocumented until the next state disclosure deadline at the end of July, public FCC files show spending on television ad contracts continues to rise, and has crossed the $400,000 threshold.

The ads include:

  • A radio ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, criticizing the justices for appointing a “liberal” Attorney General who did not oppose Obamacare.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a pro-retention group, disputing claims made in ads opposing the justices.
  • A TV ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claiming 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.
  • A TV ad highlighting the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urging viewers to vote in favor of their retention.
  • A TV ad from the State Government Leadership Foundation, a partner group of the Republican State Leadership Committee, criticizing the three justices for being “liberal on the Obama agenda.”
  • A TV ad in favor of Justice Gary Wade, describing him as focused on work, family and faith.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Keep Tennessee Courts Fair (the coordinated campaign to retain justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade), in which retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker says “politics has no place in our courts.”

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice. But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that judges are accountable to the law, not special interest groups pouring money into retention elections. Ads that politicize judges’ records on the bench undermine the independence of our courts.”

Categories
Press Releases

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.