LJ World: Kansas judicial races drawing big money ad campaigns

By Peter Hancock | LJ World

TOPEKA — This year's Supreme Court retention races in Kansas are drawing a large amount of campaign spending, according to a new report, but a loophole in the state's disclosure laws prevents anyone from knowing the true total or where the money is coming from.

"Not only do you not get any information about where the money is coming from, even the groups are not required to disclose their spending," said Alicia Bannon, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks campaign spending in judicial races.

Bannon said the only publicly available data on campaign spending in Kansas judicial races comes from contracts to purchase air time on radio and TV that are reported to the Federal Communications Commission.

According to a report the Brennan Center released last week, the increased spending in Kansas is part of a national trend. In 10 states that are holding high court elections this fall, including Kansas, special interest groups have already lined up to buy $3.5 million worth of radio and TV advertising time.

In Kansas, where retention elections have gone largely unnoticed until recent years, as of Thursday, Oct. 20, outside groups had contracted to buy $202,290 worth of radio and TV ad time to campaign for or against retaining the five Supreme Court justices on the ballot.

Of that, 58 percent, or $118,084, is being spent by Kansans for Justice, a group campaigning to oust four of the five justices on the ballot. The remaining 42 percent, or a little more than $84,206, is being spent by Kansans for Fair Courts, a group campaigning to retain all five justices on the ballot.

And while that may not sound like much, Bannon said, it typically doesn't take very much spending to influence a judicial race, especially in a small, inexpensive media market like Kansas.

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