Special Interests Target Judicial Races in Tenn.

     (CN) – Most ad money for judicial elections in Tennessee comes from special interests, including in races where candidates did not spend a dime last time around, according to a new report.
     Recently released data from the nonpartisan Justice at Stake and NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice show special interest groups are spending heavily on judicial elections this year.
     In Tennessee, 53 percent of TV ad spending in 2014 came from outside groups, defined as anyone other than the candidates, according to a press release.
     “The warning signs are there: more special interest campaigns are on the way to capture courts and pressure judges,” said Bert Brandenburg, Justice at Stake Executive Director. “It’s time to start looking seriously at solutions that would reduce political pressure on our courts, put quality first and keep judges from raising money from parties who appear before them.”
     Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee all won retention elections Aug. 7. Spending topped $1 million between pro-retention and anti-retention groups, according to Justice at Stake.
     “Tennessee has joined a growing club of states where courts face a tidal wave of spending and political pressure,” Brandenburg said.
     Numbers from the Brennan Center show an estimated $1.4 million spent in the Aug. 7 state supreme court retention election. Anti-retention groups the Tennessee Forum and the State Government Leadership Foundation spent $474,000 and $63,000, respectively, in ads against the justices, according to the data.
     Pro-retention groups Keep Tennessee Courts Fair and Tennesseans for Fair Courts spent $585,000 and $241,000 on ads, respectively.
     The Tennessee Democratic Party spent $300,000 to help retain the justices, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report.
     In previous retention elections, Wade, Clark and Lee did not spend any money. But this year, Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey launched a campaign against the three justices, and a counter-campaign was created, according to the Brennan Center.
     “If the high stakes spending we’ve already seen this year is any bellwether, we can expect a lot more from special interest groups and candidates this November,” said Brennan Center counsel Alicia Bannon.

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