News of Note: TV Spending in Arkansas Supreme Court Race Passes $1 Million Mark

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Voting rights experts have raised concerns over the copious amounts of cash flowing into judicial races in states across the country.

Now, Arkansas is the latest to be in the news.

With Election Day just about a week away, total spending on TV ad contracts in Arkansas’ Supreme Court race has passed the $1 million mark.

According to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, the figure now stands at $1,011,105 (for two seats). The new total is more than double the previous TV record of $450, 320 (also for two seats), which was set in 2010, according to estimates by Kantar Media/CMAG. 

Attorney Clark Mason became the latest candidate to jump into the ad race, with TV contract bookings totaling at least $51,785 in recent days, according to FCC records. Mason is competing against Circuit Judge Shawn Womack for an associate justice seat. Womack has not booked any television time, according to records.

The race for chief justice continues to be the more expensive and contentious, with TV ad contracts bought by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network totaling at least $604,405, according to FCC files. JCN ads oppose Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, who is battling Circuit Judge Dan Kemp in the race for the chief justice seat. Judge Kemp has booked TV ad contracts totaling at least $66,910, according to records. Goodson’s campaign has booked TV contracts worth at least $288,005. Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.

Totals are current as of 8 a.m. CT, Feb. 22.

“Arkansas continues to see skyrocketing spending by interest groups in this Supreme Court race,” said Susan Liss, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for fair courts and tracks judicial election spending. “It’s a real problem for voters who get no information about who these groups are, or what courtroom decisions they hope to influence by spending big money.”

“The fact that television spending this year is more than twice the previous state record really speaks to how important ads continue to be in judicial elections,” 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. “As judges face pressure to act like politicians, their campaigns are increasingly looking like ordinary politics.”

Disclosures are not yet available for some additional spending by outside groups in the race. Direct mail campaigns are being conducted by both JCN and the Republican State Leadership Committee targeting Justice Goodson. 

The RSLC has been a major player in state judicial elections since it launched its Judicial Fairness Initiative in 2014, according to Bankrolling the Bench.

According to state disclosure forms, the candidates themselves have reported raising a total of $666,857.

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