More than $820,000 has been spent on television advertisements in North Carolina’s Supreme Court race.
The Brennan Center for Justice in New York released a new analysis today of the flow of outside money into state Supreme Court races. In a state-by-state breakdown, it shows Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson spent an estimated $58,430 on an ad and Democratic candidate Anita Earls spent about $58,880 on an ad. In addition, North Carolina Families First is reported to have spent about $705,160 on an ad supporting Earls.
Another Supreme Court candidate, Republican attorney Chris Anglin, has not yet had any air time spending, according to the Brennan Center’s data, which was provided by Kantar Media/CMAG.
North Carolina Families First is the second biggest outside spender to date on this Supreme Court election cycle, according to the Brennan Center analysis. The first is the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative, a regular player in state court races nationwide — they have already spent at least $3.2 million this year to support conservative state supreme court candidates in Arkansas and West Virginia.
“As in 2016, what’s so distributing is that voters will likely never know who is making these multi-million-dollar ad buys,” said Douglas Keith, counsel at the Brennan Center and coordinator of the ongoing Buying Time project that tracks state judicial election spending. “The top two groups this season have reported some of their donors, but the money trail is often obscured by donations from parent organizations, corporate interests, and other outside groups that aren’t required to report their individual donors. It’s nearly impossible to decipher who might be trying to skew state courts in their favor.”
The Brennan Center reported that North Carolina saw $5.4 million in spending the 2016 election of now Justice Mike Morgan, which shifted the court’s ideological balance to the left. $4.7 million of that spending was from outside groups that partially or completely conceal their donors.
Keith said outside spending continues to threaten the integrity of the nation’s courts.
“As we just laid out in a report earlier this year, outside and dark money spending imperil the ability of judges to be and appear fair and impartial, and the pressures of elections are contorting our justice system to favor the wealthy and the powerful,” he said.
Keith has also been watching the ads and noted that several candidates in several states took to the airwaves themselves, including in North Carolina.
“In a twist this year, some ads from judges take the tone of partisan political spots, invoking President [Donald] Trump or other national political figures and themes to make the case to voters,” a news release states. “One ad from a sitting supreme court justice in North Carolina goes as far as imploring voters to ‘stop the liberals.'”
That ad is from Jackson — it criticizes “out of control liberal judges” for allowing sanctuary cities to protect illegal immigrants and for “making new laws from the bench.”
“Stop the liberals,” the ad states. “Re-elect Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson. Barbara Jackson, a proven conservative.”
Anglin questioned Jackson about the ad in a recent debate because it shows a news article citing a federal judge for ruling a sanctuary city policy legal (state Supreme Courts can’t control federal courts). Jackson said at the time she only had 15 seconds to get across the message that she was about conservative principles.
Earls’ ads both discuss her brother’s murder, in which she says her family never got justice. She describes in each why she is dedicated to equal justice under the law.
“If we are going to protect families and make communities safer, we need equal justice under law,” she says in the ad bought by North Carolina Families First.
Watch all of the ads here.