LANSING – Candidates’ television ad campaigns are being overshadowed by third-party ad sponsors in the early phase of three out of four of Michigan’s hottest political campaigns. The candidates’ television campaigns account for less than 20 percent of the TV advertising in the 1st Congressional District, the 7th Congressional District and the gubernatorial campaign. Of the campaigns currently most active on television, the 9th Congressional District is the only one in which candidates’ ads predominate.
Republican nominee Rick Snyder hasn’t bought a television ad since the August 3rd primary election. In his stead, the Republican Governors Association has purchased $2.1 million worth of ads through October 3rd.
On the Democratic side of the campaign, Virg Bernero has spent $995,000 for television advertising, while the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee has spent $2.4 million through October 3rd.
There is nothing new about candidate-focused “issue” advertising in Michigan gubernatorial campaigns. There was $18 million worth of such advertising in the 2006 gubernatorial race, and almost $10 million worth in the general election phase of the 2002 gubernatorial. What is new this year is the fact the Republican Governors Association is leaning on broadcasters to withhold records of its buys from the stations’ public files, and some of the stations are complying.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which collects the spending data from the broadcasters and cable systems, was forced to estimate gross sales at a small handful of stations, using market-share estimates derived from a decade of data collection.
“The RGA’s posture on disclosure is cowardly and contemptuous of voters’ rights to know who is spending in our political campaigns,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
It is not clear whether this new drive for secrecy originates with the RGA or its advertising agency, Los Angeles-based Target. Target was Mr. Snyder’s agency for his successful primary, and it is using B-roll featuring Mr. Snyder for its MasterCard knock-off ads, a clear indication of intimate coordination between RGA/Target and the Snyder campaign.
“If Mr. Snyder is serious about wanting better politics in Michigan, he ought to tell his friends at Target and the RGA to release their records to all of the broadcasters’ public files,” Robinson said.
The Federal Communications Commission requires broadcasters to maintain public records of advertising related to “issues of national importance,” or candidate-focused electioneering communications about federal candidates. However, the FCC is silent on candidate-focused “issue” advertising featuring candidates for state offices. Thus, RGA/Target may be within its legal right, but it is ethically wrong.
“I can only guess that RGA/Target doesn’t want me to be able to define the scale of the black-box through which they’re running their advertising,” Robinson said, “But we’ve got enough data accumulated that I’ll stand behind these estimates. And if they disagree with my estimates, they can always just come clean and disclose what they’re doing.”
The RGA has established a Michigan state PAC with over $4 million in it, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce had given the RGA $2,547,500 through June 30th of this year, according to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
1st Congressional District
The campaign of Democratic nominee Gary McDowell has spent nearly three times as much as the campaign of Republican nominee Dan Benishek, $192,000 to $68,000, but Benishek’s helpers at Americans for Prosperity, American Future Fund and the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) give the Benishek campaign a two-to-one advertising advantage over McDowell and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC): $1,045,000 to $512,000. Benishek’s own ads are 6.5 percent of the campaign supporting him, while McDowell’s ads are 37.5 percent of the advertising effort on his side.
7th Congressional District
So far, incumbent Rep. Mark Schauer’s campaign has spent $487,000 for television, while Republican challenger Tim Walberg’s campaign has spent $91,000. However, Americans for Prosperity, American Future Fund and the National Republican Campaign Committee are making the ad wars competitive. Overall, Schauer and his friends at AFSCME, SEIU, the Communications Workers of America and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are outspending Walberg and friends, $1.6 million to $1.35 million. Schauer, the DCCC, the NRCC and American Future Fund have placed buys through the remainder of the campaign, and the Schauer campaign is expanding into the Toledo media market today. The Schauer campaign has paid for 30 percent of its supporting advertising campaign, while the Walberg campaign has paid for 6.7 percent of its ad support
9th Congressional District
With a month to go before Election Day, the TV ad war is not competitive in the 9th Congressional District. Incumbent Rep. Gary Peters and AFSCME have spent $807,000, while Anderw Raczkowski, Americans for Prosperity and American Future Fund have spent $83,000, all on cable. So far, the NRCC and DCCC have not made this race a priority. Peters’ own campaign committee has paid for 73 percent of his supporting advertising; Raczkowski's’s campaign has paid for 19.9 percent of the advertising supporting his campaign.