Washington, D.C., May 15 – Pennsylvania Supreme Court primary candidates are airing a barrage of last-minute television advertising, pushing broadcast TV ad buy totals up to at least $2.4 million as of May 15, according to Federal Communications Commission records analyzed by Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. This represents almost $1 million in new ad buys in three days.
Seven of the 12 candidates running in the primary are running television ads, which can be seen on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website. The ads continue to focus on themes of ethics and candidate qualifications, with no advertising purchased to date by interest groups or political parties.
“Unfortunately, it looks like Pennsylvanians could be heading for an historically costly battle over three Supreme Court seats,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates for fair courts. “The TV ad dollars are multiplying literally overnight, and this is just for the primary. The spectacle of so much spending, on top of recent scandals affecting the Court, ought to put insulating judges from money and political pressure at the top of Pennsylvania’s agenda.”
“The recent upswing in spending raises concerns about fundraising pressure on judicial candidates,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Historically lawyers, law firms, and special interests have been major contributors to Pennsylvania judicial candidates, raising concerns about how fundraising may impact judges’ decisions on the bench. We need stronger protections to insulate judges from the appearance of bias.”
“This is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we’ll likely see before the race ends in November,” commented Lynn Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. “The real problem is that the money for all this advertising is flowing into campaign coffers from the same lawyers, law firms and special interests that could someday appear before these judges in court. Just seeing this amount of spending should make Pennsylvanians stop and think about whether there isn’t a better way to choose our judges.”
The Democratic primary continues to see the highest ad spending. Judge Kevin Dougherty has now booked contracts totaling at least $1 million according to FCC files. Judge David Wecht has booked TV contracts worth nearly $440,000, while Judge John Foradora has booked TV contracts worth at least $200,000. Judge Anne Lazarus has booked ad contracts totaling over $200,000 as well. Judges Dwayne Woodruff and Christine Donohue have not booked any TV ads to date.
Republican candidates have increased their TV ad spending, but to a lesser extent. Judge Anne Covey has now booked contracts worth nearly $140,000. Judges Judy Olson and Michael George have jointly booked ad contracts worth at least $170,000. In addition, George has booked separate contracts worth nearly $200,000, and Olson has booked separate contracts worth at least $30,000. No ad contracts have been logged to date for Justice Correale Stevens, Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen, or Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren, the remaining Republicans in the race.
Pennsylvania has a history of high-cost judicial elections, but with an unprecedented three seats open this year, this race has the potential to break state spending records. The ideological balance of the court also hangs in the balance. The highest TV spending totals in a Supreme Court election in the state occurred back in 2007, when they reached $4.6 million for the year (with two open seats and one retention election).
Please note: Totals include broadcast television contracts publicly available from FCC files only. Additional spending for radio or cable television advertising is not included.
Justice at Stake is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners educate the public, and 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. For more about Justice at Stake, go to www.justiceatstake.org or www.gavelgrab.org.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to ensure that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts for justice with confidence that the most qualified, fair, and impartial judges will preside over their cases. For more information, visit www.pmconline.org.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Its work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to presidential power in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution — part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group — the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector. For more information about the Brennan Center, go to www.brennancenter.org.