Registry of Election Finance records show the three Republican Tennessee Supreme Court justices facing a retention election on Aug. 4 have all set up campaign accounts and raised modest amounts of money — mostly from lawyers — but spent almost nothing.
That’s a striking contrast with two years ago, when three incumbent justices appointed by Democratic governors were on the August ballot. They collectively raised and spent more than $1.1 million while being supported by a separate group that spent $345,000.
The successful 2014 campaigns by Justices Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade came despite almost as much being spent on attacking them as liberals soft on crime and supportive of the federal Affordable Care Act through the attorney general they chose — contentions they vigorously denied.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey put $605,000 into the anti-incumbent effort through his political action committee and a national GOP group added about $200,000. The combined total of about $2.5 million made for the most expensive Supreme Court campaign in Tennessee history.
This year, there has been no visible organized anti-incumbent campaign facing the three justices appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — Jeffrey Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger Page. Apparently concerned about the possibility, however, all three set up re-election campaign finance accounts and sought donations. Their reports, reflecting account status as of July 1, show:
Bivins, who was appointed in April of 2014 to replace retiring Justice William Koch upon Koch’s retirement in July of that year, reported raising $11,587. The former Court of Criminal Appeals judge who lives in Franklin, reported spending $68.44, leaving a cash-on hand balance of $11,518. He also reported $1,733 in “in-kind” donations from those providing food, beverages or free rental for fundraising events.
Kirby, appointed in December of 2013 to replace Justice Janice Holder upon her retirement effective in September of 2014, reported raising $16,942, including a personal loan of $3,000 to the campaign. The former Court of Appeals judge from Memphis reported expenditures of $460.58 and a balance of $16,942. She also reported $1,250 in “in-kind” donations.
Page, who was appointed earlier this year after Wade resigned from the court, reported $12,460 in contributions and $52.43 in expenditures. The former Court of Criminals Appeals judge is a Chester County native who lives in Jackson and is married to Carol McCoy, a Democrat who is retiring as a Nashville Chancery Court judge. He had another $2,005 of in-kind contributions.
The biggest direct donation to the three judges listed on disclosures is $1,000 to each from the Nashville law firm of Adams and Reese, which also engages in legislative lobbying. Another Nashville law firm with a lobbying arm, Miller and Martin, reported $500 of in-kind donations to each of the three.
With very few exceptions, contributions to the justices — including the in-kind donations — came from lawyers, law firms or fellow judges.
State Rep. Mike Carter, R- Ooltewah, a lawyer and former judge, gave each of the justices $250. Other donations ranged from $25 to $500.
A limited review of other campaign finance disclosures has turned up cases of the justices themselves making small political contributions to other Republican candidates this year. Kirby, for example, gave $100 each to state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and David Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney in West Tennessee, who are among 13 candidates for the Republican nomination in the 8th Congressional District. Bivins gave $100 to state Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin.
Seven appeals court judges are also on the statewide ballot Aug. 4 for a yes-no vote on whether they should continue in office.
A review of Registry records indicates all but one have filed the paperwork necessary to have a campaign finance account in place, but none has reported any fundraising or spending whatsoever.
Three Court of Appeals judges are on the ballot. Kenny Armstrong of Memphis, Brandon Gibson of Jackson and Arnold Golden of Memphis. The other four are Court of Criminal Appeals Judges Robert Montgomery of Kingsport, Timothy Easter of Nashville, Robert Holloway of Columbia and Ross Dyer of Jackson.
on the ballot
The Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges are not listed by party affiliation on the ballot, though judges at the local trial court level are so labeled, if they wish to declare a party affiliation.
On Aug. 4, voters in various localities around the state will be voting in elections to fill vacancies in six Circuit Court judicial positions, two Criminal Court positions and one Chancery Court position, according to the state Division of Elections.
None of the candidates for those local judge seats has declared themselves to be a Democrat, according to the state Division of Elections website, though seven will be listed on the ballot as “Independent” — including two seats in Democrat-friendly Shelby County, where two declared Independents are competing for one position and two in another.
Three taking the Republican label are running unopposed, though there are two declared Republicans seeking the party nomination for a seat in the Morristown area.