Arkansas is one of several states with prominent court races this year that could attract big spending by outside groups, In all, more than 80 Supreme Court seats are going before voters this year.
“These groups, in the states where they decide to focus, are essentially taking over and dictating the terms of the dialogue,” Douglas Keith, counsel for the center’s Democracy Program, said.
Outside money accounted for 84 percent of what was spent on high court races in 2018 in Arkansas, where two groups spent more than $2.8 million unsuccessfully trying to oust Justice Courtney Hudson. Hudson, who went by Courtney Goodson before her divorce last year, won re-election in 2018. During the race, she took the unusual step of filing lawsuits to block the groups’ ads and mailers.
One of the groups that targeted Hudson, the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative, filed paperwork with the state to spend money as an independent expenditure group and recently posted a 15-second video online promoting Webb’s candidacy. The group spent $4.1 million on court races in Arkansas and two other states in the 2017-2018 cycle, the most among outside groups, according to the Brennan Center.
Welch has begun buying airtime for TV ads, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.
The candidates themselves have raised and spent modest amounts for a statewide race. Webb’s campaign has raised more than $163,000 and spent more than $83,000 on the bid, while Welch’s has raised more than $138,000 and spent about $117,000. According to her most recent campaign finance report, two local Republican groups spent nearly $2,000 on a billboard promoting Webb’s candidacy.
Following the lead of past court races, Webb and Welch avoid talking about political issues or matters that may come before the high court and instead focus on their experience or broader issues. Webb has said she’d like to see the state’s courts expand the use of technology, and Welch he’d like to “de-mystify”the judiciary and make it more accessible to the general public.