Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School have released a report that TV ad spending for an Arkansas Supreme Court seat this year totaled $360,500, nearly double $168,410 spent in a 2012 race.
Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne defeated Little Rock lawyer Tim Cullen in the race, 52-48
The big spending is nearly all related to the Law Enforcement Allicance of America, a Virginia-based 501C4 organization that does not disclose its sources of money nor does it even disclose names of its employees.
The report calculated that the LEAA spent at least $317,280 (and likely more) on ads attacking Cullen as soft on child pornography, a charge that FactCheck.org and others termed a misrepresentation of his legal work on an appeal by a criminal defendant. That amount was more than ten times what Cullen spent on TV ads ($31,750) and more than 30 times what Wynne spent ($11,470), according to Justice at Stake.
Justice at Stake noted that this race followed $1.3 million in out-of-state spending in a North Carolina judicial race. Said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, “So much spending, so much negativity, and so much outside meddling happening so early are turning 2014 into a year of escalating pressure on our courts of law.” The release continued:
“I’m not at all surprised that outside groups outspent candidates in this race,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “It’s a disturbing trend that we’re seeing across the country. Special interest groups are using attack ads to play politics with our courts, and in many cases judicial candidates are being outspent and unjustly maligned.”
This is not the first time the LEAA has sought to influence judicial elections. According to a report out of the Center for American Progress, the LEAA spent “nearly half a million dollars in 2012 to elect Justice Josiah Coleman to the Mississippi high court …. and spent even more to elect pro-gun state attorneys general.”
The Brennan Center has compiled the ad data, ads and other information on its website. The data comes from Kantar Media/CMAG, which compiles data in large media markets. The estimates do not include ad agency commissions or production costs and do not include any ads purchased on cable channels, so the total probably underestimates actual expenses.
LEAA produced two ads, with more than $317,000 about equally divided on them. One attacked Cullen and the other praised Wynne as tough on crime. Wynne has disavowed knowledge of the group, but has otherwise refused to discuss the tactic or repudiate its representation of Cullen’s legal work.
Justice at Stake is, its release said, “a nonpartisan organization working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom — so judges can protect our Constitution, our rights and the rule of law. Justice at Stake also educates Americans about the role of the courts, promotes diversity on the bench, and supports adequate resources for courts.” It is an independent organization from the Brennan Center, a fact I confused in the original post.
The group didn’t mention specifically the huge spending by another 501c4, the American Future Fund, to help David Sterling defeat Leslie Rutledge in the Republican primary race for attorney general. The ads depict Sterling as a crusader for a “stand your ground law,” a dangerous expansion of gun protection that some have come to call Kill the Witness laws. Rutledge and Sterling are in a runoff. In a message to supporters today, Rutledge said:
What I am proud of most, is that in spite of being outspent three-to-one with nearly half-a -million dollars spent by an out-of-state secret PAC, we dug deep and ran a grassroots campaign led by volunteers that knocked on 10,000 doors, made thousands of calls, sent e-mails to friends, and messaged thousands of people on social media.