Spending in Pennsylvania Supreme Court Race Tops Out Over $16.5 Million

WASHINGTON, D.C. November 6 – A post-Election Day tally of documented spending in Pennsylvania’s 2015 Supreme Court race shows  total spending rose to  $16,536,492,  further surpassing the previous national record for a Supreme Court race,  according to an analysis of state disclosures and television advertising by the nonpartisan organizations Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. 

The latest data incorporates spending information obtained on and immediately after Election Day.  On that day, November 3, documented spending in the race had already reached $15,850,297, breaking the previous national record of $15.19 million set in Illinois in 2004. Pennsylvania’s prior record for total spending in a state Supreme Court race was $10,519,717 in 2007.  

Candidates raised at least $13,097,912 during the 2015 primary and general elections, according to publicly filed state campaign disclosures and 24-hour contribution reports. Pennsylvania’s previous record for candidate fundraising, set in 2007, was $9,464,975. 
Democrats and their allies outspent Republicans and their allies in the race, and the three Democratic candidates, Judges Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and  
David N. Wecht, swept all three open seats.
“Overblown campaign spending in state court races is a giant and growing storm that threatens justice,” said Liz Seaton, Interim Executive Director of Justice at Stake.  “Our recent research shows that in the 2013-14 cycle, more than 90 percent of contested state Supreme Court races were won by the candidate who raised the most money.  The Pennsylvania race – the most expensive of its kind in history – confirms that finding. We need to break this cycle by moving away from contested elections for judges.”  
““These spending patterns suggest that certain groups, such as plaintiff’s attorneys and unions, sought to influence the outcome of this election through their contributions,” said Matt Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Of even greater concern, however, are the groups, such as the PA Alliance and the Republican State Leadership Committee, whose contributors’ identities are not fully disclosed by Election Day.”
“Now that the costliest state Supreme Court race in U.S. history has been run in Pennsylvania, the state has an opportunity to set a national example by rejecting these expensive and politicized races,” said Lynn A. Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. “Judges don’t belong on the campaign trail and lawyers and groups who are often in court shouldn’t be dictating who wins or loses.  We’re encouraged to see merit selection gaining traction as a viable reform with bipartisan support.”  
Where the Money Came From
The Committee for a Better Tomorrow, a group largely funded by attorneys, was a major source of contributions to  Democratic candidates. They accounted for 39.7 percent of Donohue’s total contributions, 16.9 percent of Dougherty’s total contributions, and 24.3 percent of Wecht’s total contributions. Donations to Republican candidates did not come from one clear source or group. Gary Lowenthal, an individual, contributed $500,000 to Mike George in early 2015, accounting for 56.6 percent of George’s total haul.
Both the Democratic and Republican candidates saw outside groups spend in their favor. The Republican State Leadership Committee independently spent almost $900,000 on television advertisements praising Anne Covey and Judith Olson and criticizing Dougherty. A search of the publicly filed state campaign disclosures and 24-hour contribution reports does not yield any information about their donors. 
According to the publicly filed state campaign disclosure and 24-hour contribution reports, Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, which independently spent $2.53 million on TV advertisements attacking the Republican candidates, received 47 percent of its contributions from identifiable union groups. An additional 23 percent of its funding came from the Committee for a Better Tomorrow, and 19 percent of its funding came from the PA Alliance, a group that has not disclosed its contributors.
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