Pennsylvania Supreme Court Race Breaks Fundraising, TV, and Spending Records

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Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court election set records for candidate fundraising, overall spending, and total television airtime spending a week out from election day – when voters select three for open seats on the court, according to analysis of state disclosures and television advertising by the nonpartisan organizations the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake.

Candidates have raised at least $9,826,380 during the 2015 primary and general election, according to publicly filed state campaign disclosures and 24-hour contribution reports. The prior record for candidate fundraising, set in 2007, was $9,464,975. Total spending in the 2015 primary and general election is at least $11,474,570, compared to $10,519,717 in 2007.

Counting ads that already have aired in both the primary and general elections, estimated airtime spending is $6,710,990 through Oct. 26, according to the most recent estimates by CMAG/Kantar Media. Total television airtime spending in 2007 was $4,555,196.

“As these spending records fall, Pennsylvania continues to demonstrate the important role that money all too often plays in judicial elections,” said Matt Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Tracking where the money comes from is especially important to protect the integrity of the judiciary. With big money contributions, and high-spending outside groups, it is essential for the public to know who is trying to influence and shape state courts.”

“While Pennsylvania’s record-smashing judicial election may not be a shock, it’s definitely a shame,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake, an organization that tracks spending in judicial elections. “The losers in this highly politicized election are really the people of Pennsylvania. Multimillion-dollar spending binges and waves of attack ads are no way to determine who serves on the state’s highest court.”

“Watching these expensive brawls year after year is yet one more reason we say ‘Enough is enough’ for contested Supreme Court elections in Pennsylvania,” said Lynn A. Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. “We are very encouraged by the bipartisan support for merit selection in the House Judiciary Committee last week. Pennsylvanians have a real opportunity to replace these appellate court campaigns with a system actually designed to get the most qualified, fair, and impartial judges.”

The three Republican candidates recently started airing ads, weeks after their Democratic counterparts began their own ad campaigns in advance of the Nov. 3 general election. Meanwhile two special interest groups continued a proxy air war, including some attack ads. The Republican State Leadership Committee has been supporting the Republicans, while Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform has been backing the Democrats.

Current totals for candidate fundraising and overall spending likely are higher. Disclosures of contributions and spending from mid-September to mid-October still had not been publicly posted on the state campaign website for four of the seven high-court hopefuls by noon ET on Oct. 27.

The three Democrats passed the $1 million fundraising threshold. Kevin Dougherty raised at least $2.2 million, although his final pre-election disclosure has not been publicly released. David N. Wecht has received at least $2 million in contributions, although his final pre-election disclosure has not been publicly filed. Christine Donohue reported nearly $1.8 million in contributions through Oct. 23.

Michael George leads Republican candidates in reported fundraising, $840,623 through Oct. 26.

Candidate fundraising and overall spending totals do not include disclosures filed after noon ET on Oct. 27, or political ads aired after Oct. 26.

The three top vote-getters among the seven candidates will win the three open seats, which each carry a 10-year term.

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

According to the most recent CMAG/Kantar estimates of television ads that have aired, candidates and interest groups spent the following on airtime for both the primary and general election, through Oct. 26:

  • Christine Donohue (D) $712,710
  • Kevin Dougherty (D) $1,960,620
  • David N. Wecht (D) $1,358,870
  • Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform $1,272,130
  • Anne Covey (R) $177,620
  • Michael A. George (R) $256,730
  • Judith Olson (R) $112,080
  • Republican State Leadership Committee $376,060
  • Anne Lazarus (D; primary only) $287,120
  • John Foradora (D; primary only) $197,050

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