Outside Spending Enters Pennsylvania Supreme Court Race

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A group funded mainly by plaintiff trial lawyers started running television ads this week opposing the Republican candidates for the three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, according to a search of publicly available Federal Communications Commission records by the nonpartisan organizations Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform purchased contracts for $56,320 at three stations.

Combined with ads booked by the three Democrats, Judges Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and David N. Wecht, total television ad airtime spending in advance of the Nov. 3 general election is $862,630, FCC records show.

No television ad contracts for the general election were on file for Republican Judges Anne Covey, Michael A. George, and Judith Olson, or Judge Paul Panepinto, an Independent candidate.

“With millions of dollars raised in this contest, voters can expect an ad blitz between now and Election Day,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “We have been anticipating that outside money would enter the race as we got closer to Nov. 3. Given this most recent expenditure by Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, we expect other groups will follow, possibly spending heavily in the days before Election Day.”

“As expected, the TV ad war in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court election is heating up as we get closer to Election Day,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks spending in judicial elections. “This election has all the ingredients to be a highly contentious and expensive race, with a record number of seats open and the court’s ideological balance in play. A final onslaught of ads from all sides is highly likely in upcoming weeks.”

“This Supreme Court election is historic on a number of fronts, including the number of vacancies and the possibility for record high spending.  Fortunately, we’re also seeing a great many opportunities for Pennsylvanians to learn about the candidates, including public forums broadcast around the state,” added Lynn Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. “It’s crucial that Pennsylvania voters look past the sound bites and evaluate the candidates based on their experience and reputation for integrity, fairness, and impartiality.”

The three top vote-getters among the seven candidates will win the three open seats, the first time so many posts have been open on Pennsylvania’s high court. Each carries a 10-year term.

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice will continue to track spending on television advertising in this fall’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court election, with videos of ads available from CMAG/Kantar Media at Brennan’s Buying Time 2015 ad tracking website.

Candidates have spent the following on the general election, according to FCC records of airtime bookings and the most recent CMAG/Kantar estimates of ads that have aired:

  • Christine Donohue (D) Booked $224,545 in airtime for ads ending Oct. 19. Cost of ads aired through Oct. 12: $37,300
  • Kevin Dougherty (D) Booked $204,860 in airtime for ads ending Oct. 19. Cost of ads aired through Oct. 12: $83,380
  • David N. Wecht (D) Booked $376,905 in airtime for ads ending Oct. 19. Costs of ads aired through Oct. 12: $242,220
  • Anne Covey (R) No ads
  • Michael A. George (R) No ads
  • Judith Olson (R) No ads
  • Paul Panepinto (I) No ads

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