Nov 09 2012

Who Paid for Those Ads?

Published by at 11:46 am under Merit Selection

Now that the storm has subsided, it’s time to take stock of the damage. No, not Hurricane Sandy. I’m referring to the staggering amount of political spending that propelled this year’s judicial elections.

Sixteen states spent almost $28 million on TV advertising in Supreme Court races. Finalized fundraising totals for these races won’t be available until the end of the year, but this number is on track to break spending records. And it doesn’t end there. That number only accounts for television spending in Supreme Court races. It doesn’t even begin to account for spending in circuit or other

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appellate court contests.

This begs the question — Where is all of this money coming from? Less than half of the money was spent by candidates’ campaign committees. Almost $16 million was spent by independent groups and political action committees. Keep in mind, these totals only include money that was accounted for by states’ reporting and disclosure systems. Many campaign donations are untraceable. They hover like ghosts casting a specter of mystery and doubt over the election cycle, identifiable only by the whisper of a footprint left on the books of TV broadcasters and cable networks.

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As Rich Robinson, Executive Director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, points out, “The reason this matters is that unaccountable spending undermines the presumption of impartial justice. No one has a real incentive to spend big in a Supreme Court campaign like an


interest with a high-stakes case in the appeals pipeline.”

During his election night coverage, NBC news anchor Brian Williams made several references to the insane amount of money that was spent on the various campaigns and how that money could have been redirected toward more worthy pursuits. Nowhere is that observation more germane than in judicial elections.

Pennsylvania already has some of the most contentious and expensive judicial contests in the nation. We also have a Supreme Court Justice awaiting trial for campaign finance misconduct. It’s time for Pennsylvania to implement Merit Selection. It’s time to take judges off of the campaign trail and put them back on the bench. It’s time to reinvigorate the public’s confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. It’s time to put the millions of dollars that will pour into next year’s judicial elections to better use.


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