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Candidates in state Supreme Court race top $4M

MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s two state Supreme Court candidates spent $4.3 million on their campaigns, making their race one of the most expensive court contests in America last year.

Republican Greg Shaw, who narrowly won the election in November, filed a campaign finance report Thursday showing he spent $1.78 million on his campaign. Democratic loser Deborah Bell Paseur reported $2.46 million in expenditures in 2008. That, combined with the $45,045 she spent in 2007, pushed her total to $2.5 million.

Two organizations that track campaign spending nationwide in court races, the Justice at Stake Campaign and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said the expenditure reports maintain Alabama’s tradition of having some of the nation’s most expensive court races.

“For official campaign fundraising, it’s the most expensive this year,” said Charles Hall, spokesman for the Justice at Stake Campaign.

But in terms of total spending, including advertising by outside groups, it’s not. That title belongs to Wisconsin, where $6 million was spent in one race — most of it by outside groups, he said.

James Sample, spokesman for Brennan Center for Justice, said outside groups spent about $1 million in Alabama, pushing the total cost to $5.3 million. The ads were run by groups with ties to the business community. They praised Shaw and criticized Paseur.

The spending by outside groups is an estimate based on the purchase of ads because Alabama law doesn’t require them to file campaign finance reports.

Alabama is one of seven states where Supreme Court candidates run with party labels.

From 1993 through the 2006 elections, with business interests backing Republicans and plaintiff lawyers siding with Democrats, Alabama was No. 1 in the nation for costly Supreme Court campaigns with $54 million. Texas was second at $30 million.

The Justice at Stake Campaign and the Brennan Center have not finished updating the national totals for 2008 because the final campaign reports have not been filed in some states.

Paseur, a retired district court judge from Florence, said Friday her race cost about what she expected, given Alabama’s traditionally expensive races, but she wished it wasn’t the case. She said she would prefer Alabama switch to nonpartisan judicial races, which has held down costs in some states.

Shaw, a former judge on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment. Shaw replaced Republican Harold See on the Supreme Court, which has eight Republicans and one Democrat.