Figures compiled from state and federal records show that spending in the race for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court is now in excess of $1 million.
Justice at Stake, a national organization that monitors judicial election expenditures, yesterday announced that its analysis of Federal Communication Commission filings showed a conservative “dark money” group called the Judicial Crisis Network has bought at least $532,030 in television ad contracts attacking Associate Justice Courtney Goodson.
That’s as of yesterday morning; ad buys are ongoing, and the March 1 judicial election is still 11 days away. (Circuit Judge Dan Kemp, Goodson’s opponent, has said he had no prior knowledge of the JCN’s interest in the race.)
Meanwhile, the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State show that the Goodson and Kemp campaigns themselves have spent cumulative totals of $402,032 and $44,494, respectively, through January 31. Here’s Goodson’s report on January spending. Here’s Kemp’s. But those numbers don’t include spending by the candidates since Feb. 1, when the campaign has kicked into higher gear. There’s no doubt that the total spent on this race now tops $1 million.
That’s not all. We’ll eventually find out how much Goodson and Kemp spent on the race when they file their final reports for the month of February (which aren’t due until after the March 1 election). We won’t ever find out how much the Judicial Crisis Network spent in total, because while FCC records give a picture of the outside group’s broadcast communications (TV and radio), there’s no equivalent paper trail for other types of advertising the group is purchasing: direct mail, advertising on the web, yard signs, newspaper ads, etc.
We know for certain that the JCN has mounted a sizable direct mail campaign — in fact, there’s a new attack ad that’s been making the rounds lately (see image above, sent in by a reader) — but the group isn’t required to report how much it spends on such mailers.
Why not? Because in the eyes of Arkansas election law, the JCN is merely educating voters and exercising its Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech. It doesn’t have to disclose anything to state election officials. The only reason we have any record of the Judicial Crisis Network’s ad buys is thanks to federal telecommunications regulators. But because the FCC only monitors the airwaves (not mailers, etc), its records give an incomplete picture. We know for certain that the JCN has spent more than $532,030, but we can’t tell just how much more.
By the way, a 2015 bill by Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) would have begun to close this loophole by requiring purchase of such “electioneering communications” — that is, ads obviously intended to influence the outcome of an election but that don’t explicitly say to vote for or against a candidate — to be disclosed. The bill was killed in committee.
Here’s yesterday’s press release from Justice at Stake, which focuses on the TV ad buys in the chief justice contest. It notes that the estimated $798,000 spent on TV ads (as of yesterday morning) demolishes the previous TV spending record in the state, about $450,000 in a 2010 race.
TV Contracts Near $800,000
Justice at Stake Contact: Laurie Kinney | email@example.com | 202-588-9454 | cell 571-882-3615
Brennan Center for Justice Contact: Seth Hoy | Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org | 646-292-8316
WASHINGTON, DC, Feb.18, 2016 – With just under two weeks to go before Election Day on March 1, total spending on TV ad contracts in Arkansas’ Supreme Court race exceeds the state’s previous TV spending record by more than $300,000. According to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, $798,315 has been spent on TV ads in the race so far. That breaks the previous record of $450,320 which was set in 2010, according to estimates by Kantar Media/CMAG.
TV spending continues to be dominated by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has booked at least $532,030 in ad contracts, according to FCC files. The JCN ads oppose Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, who is battling Circuit Judge Dan Kemp in a race for the Chief Justice seat.
Justice Goodson’s campaign has booked TV ad contracts worth at least $237,080, while Judge Kemp’s campaign has booked contracts worth at least $29,205. Circuit Judge Shawn Womack and attorney Clark Mason are competing for another open seat on the court, and have not booked TV ad contracts to date. Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.
Totals are current as of 8 a.m. CT, Feb. 18.
The state record for outside spending in a Supreme Court race fell last week. That figure, which to-date is totally accounted for by JCN’s TV ads, now stands at $532,030. The previous record of $164,560 was recorded in 2014.
“Arkansas is experiencing a record-smashing Supreme Court race, due in large part to spending by an outside group that doesn’t disclose its donors,” said Susan Liss, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for fair courts and tracks judicial election spending. “With the evidence growing that campaign spending has an impact on courtroom rulings, there’s an urgent need for real fixes that can get money and partisan politics out of judicial selection.”
“It’s not surprising that both outside spending and total television spending are higher than ever before in Arkansas,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a co-author of Bankrolling the Bench, a comprehensive report on spending in the 2013-14 judicial elections by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. “Money has become a big factor in judicial elections, especially funds from outside groups that don’t have to disclose donors. As election season continues, I won’t be surprised if records continue to fall around the country.”
The JCN has been a major spender in state Supreme Court races nationwide for several years. According to The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12, JCN was ninth on a list of the ten top spenders in judicial elections nationwide for the cycle. In the most recent election cycle, 2013-14, JCN gave $528,000 to groups that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Wisconsin and Tennessee.
According to state disclosure forms, the candidates themselves have reported raising a total of $667,357, as follows: