Our guest blogger is Billy Corriher, associate director of research for Legal Progress.
Despite spending nearly half a billion dollars to buy the White House for Mitt Romney, rich conservatives were not able to leverage the Supreme Court’s election-buying decision in Citizens United into a bought-and-paid-for presidency. Yet, in state-level races, where candidates are far less well-known than President Obama, outside spending can do far more to change the results of elections. In state supreme court races across the country, Super-PACs and other outside groups raked in millions in unlimited donations—often anonymously. The 2012 race shattered spending records as $27.8 million was spent on television advertising, according to Justice at Stake, and more than half of this money came in the form of independent spending.
Here are four of the biggest beneficiaries of this spending:
North Carolina – Justice Paul Newby
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby was reelected with the help of more than $2.5 million in independent spending. Both candidates participated in the state’s public financing program, but this system was overwhelmed by money from interest groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and the state Chamber of Commerce. The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company chipped in $100,000, after it benefited from a 2009 ruling, authored by Newby, in a dispute with tobacco farmers. The largest donation, by far, was $875,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that helped the state’s Republican legislature draft its recent redistricting maps. Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit alleging that the map disenfranchises minority voters, and the state supreme court will soon review the case.
Mississippi – Justice Josiah Coleman
Josiah Coleman won a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court election with a million dollars in independent spending, and nearly half of that money coming from a shadowy, Virginia-based organization, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA). According to a Legal Progress analysis of Kantar Media’s CMAG data, LEAA spent an estimated $449,160 on television ads in this race, and the Improve Mississippi PAC spent an estimated $626,000, for a total of $1.07 million. LEAA has been active in judicial races around the country, and although it refuses to disclose its donors, it has been associated with the National Rifle Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The rest of the independent spending came from the Improve Mississippi PAC, which received $200,000 from a physicians’ PAC and donations from PACs representing the insurance, finance, and energy industries.
Michigan – Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra
The Michigan Association of Realtors spent $400,000 on ads supporting the three Republican candidates for Michigan Supreme Court, two of whom kept their seats this month, although that was admittedly small potatoes compared to at least $10 million in spending by the two major parties on this race. Nevertheless, the significant amount of spending from the Realtors raises serious questions about Justices Markman and Zahra’s ability to impartially judge cases where this interest group has an interest.