LITTLE ROCK — A Washington-based conservative group is preparing to launch television ads criticizing an Arkansas Supreme Court justice seeking re-election, two years after the group spent more than $600,000 on TV spots targeting the justice during her unsuccessful bid to lead the state’s highest court.
The Judicial Crisis Network has spent more than $96,000 to air ads in the Little Rock and northwest Arkansas areas over the next week, according to television station filings with the Federal Communications Commission. The group did not immediately comment on the ad buy, but one filing said the group requested air time for an ad concerning Justice Courtney Goodson “accepting gifts, money (and) trips from donors as well as asking for pay raises.”
Goodson is running against Arkansas Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling and state Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson in the May 22 non-partisan judicial election. Early voting for the primary begins Monday. Goodson lost her bid for chief justice in 2016 against Dan Kemp after Judicial Crisis Network, which does not have to disclose its donors, spent more than $600,000 on ads targeting her.
Goodson blasted the ad buys, saying they’re coming from “rich cowards who hide behind their big dark money.”
“It’s all in an effort to buy votes and it’s wrong,” Goodson told The Associated Press Tuesday. “It doesn’t belong in any campaign, much less a judicial campaign.”
The filing suggests the ads will use the same line of attack regarding gifts to Goodson that it used in the chief justice race. Goodson is married to John Goodson, an attorney and member of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. She reported on financial disclosure forms in 2011 receiving $99,000 in jewelry, trips, electronics and other gifts from him when they were dating. In 2013, she reported receiving a $50,000 trip to Italy from W.H. Taylor, an attorney and friend of her husband’s. Goodson has recused herself from any cases involving her husband, Taylor or Tyson Foods Inc., a company Taylor has represented.
Kemp last year told an independent panel that sets officials’ salaries that the high court wanted an 11 percent pay raise, but the commission ultimately gave the justices and other elected officials a 2 percent pay increase. Goodson said she was grateful for the raise, but said she didn’t personally request one.
The group’s ads emerge in a campaign that’s been relatively quiet compared to two years ago. Goodson and her two rivals have only spent about $45,000 combined on this race.
“It’s unfortunate…especially this year, where the candidates haven’t raised that much money, this outside spending really could swamp what the candidates end up spending themselves,” said Douglas Keith, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks judicial election spending. “And voters won’t ever know where that money really comes from.”