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Dark money can affect state court races

Shifted balance

Justice Mike Morgan

By Melissa Boughton

NC Policy Watch

The Supreme Court race in North Carolina is one of at least five the Brennan Center for Justice is keeping a close eye on for an influx of dark money.

The organization, a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice, reported in mid-September that in the past two months, outside groups like the Judicial Crisis Network and the NRA spent more than $8 million to support or oppose Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With 29 states holding supreme court elections this November, they expect the same groups to turn their attention to state judicial races.

“Million-dollar outside spending, misleading attack ads and partisanship are fast becoming hallmarks of state judicial elections,” said Douglas Keith, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “And these are just some of today’s threats to judicial independence. State legislatures are working to increase their control over, or their partisan advantage in state courts. The president has attacked judges. Now, national groups that conceal their donors will likely again pump millions into state supreme court races.”

The Brennan Center is tracking, analyzing and publishing data on television spending in the state campaigns leading up to the Nov. 6 elections. Detailed ad data for individual candidates and groups, including spending estimates and storyboards provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, will be available on the Center’s Buying Time page.

Keith said this week that the center had not yet seen any ads in North Carolina for the state Supreme Court race. It is expected to be a contentious race though, as there has already been litigation over one of the two Republican candidates — Chris Anglin.

Anglin changed his voter registration from Democratic to Republican before filing as a candidate. He is challenging Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson and Democrat Anita Earls. The judicial races are partisan this year.

The Brennan Center reported that North Carolina saw $5.4 million in spending in the 2016 election of now-Justice Mike Morgan, which shifted the court’s ideological balance to the left. Some $4.7 million of that spending was from outside groups that partially or completely conceal their donors.

Other states the organization is keeping a close eye on include Arkansas, Michigan and West Virginia.

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