Bethany Krajelis Nov. 8, 2012, 5:19pm

More than $27 million was spent on television advertising in this year’s state Supreme Court races, according to two groups that tracked the elections.

Even though final fundraising totals are not yet available, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice announced earlier this week that TV spending in Supreme Court races appears on track to break records.

Although the two groups didn’t track spending in circuit or appellate court races, television and radio ads in the Fifth District Appellate Court race garnered quite a bit of attention.

The race’s winner, Swansea attorney Judy Cates, ran a TV ad that focused on her Republican opponent’s record on foreclosure orders. She also aired a radio commercial that accused him of putting drug dealers back on the street.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn filed complaints over the ads with the Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Supreme/Appellate Election Campaign Tone and Conduct, claiming they violated judicial advertising and ethical rules.

The committee recommended that Cates pull her TV ad, but did not make any public suggestions on the radio ad, likely a result of the complaint being filed the night before the election.

McGlynn’s campaign referred to the ads as negative and misleading while Cates’ campaign stood behind them as accurate representations of the judge’s record.

McGlynn did not return a phone message seeking comment. Cates’ voicemail system was full and did not return an email seeking comment on the election.

Complaints aside, the race between Cates and McGlynn brought in
several hundred thousand dollars. Final totals are not in yet, but according to candidates’ last quarterly reports for July 1 to Sept. 30, they reported more than $215,000 in donations and spent nearly $160,000.

At that time, Cates’ committee reported spending about $8,000 on television ads and McGlynn’s committee appears not to have reported any spending on TV ads during that three month period.

An article in a Springfield newspaper notes that Cates' committee planned to spend about $13,000 to air her ads on one local station.

Committees don’t have to file their next quarterly reports, which will include activity between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, until the end of December.

When it comes to television spending in Supreme Court races, it appears that candidates in Illinois’ election didn’t contribute much toward the $27 million that was spent on TV ads in the 16 states that hosted high court elections this year.

Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said about $1.3 million was spent on television advertising in the primary and general election for the Illinois Supreme Court race.

The majority of that amount, about $1.2 million, was spent by the campaign committee of Justice Mary Jane Theis, Bannon said.

Theis on Tuesday defeated her Republican opponent, Cook County Circuit Judge James Riley, to keep the seat she was appointed to in 2010.

Bannon said more than $1 million was spent on television spending in 10 states with Supreme Court races and that at least seven states saw negative ads get released shortly before the election.

Michigan, she said, saw some of the most negative ads. One candidate released an online video starring the cast of the TV-show West Wing and was then targeted in another candidate’s ad for offering legal help to detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Besides the sheer cost and negativity of some judicial TV ads, Bannon said it appears as if much of the spending was not done by the candidates.

Out of the $27.8 million in TV advertising spending in the nation’s Supreme Court races this year, Bannon said only about $12 million was spent by the candidates while independent groups and political action committees spent the rest.

According to the Brennan Center, more than half of all TV ads in this
cycle came from non-candidates, compared to the 30 percent reported in 2010.

Bannon referred to this trend as “disturbing.”

“It raises concerns,” she said. “It certainly harms the public’s confidence in the judiciary and puts judges in awkward positions.”

It does not appear that ads for either of the candidates in the Fifth District race were paid for by outside groups, but their final quarterly reports, which will include activity from last month, isn't due until December.

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