latimes.com: Studies find political ad spending spree
LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times) -- The presidential candidates and the parties are pouring money into campaign advertising at a record-breaking pace, some of it skirting federal laws designed to keep special interests from influencing the election, according to a pair of studies released Tuesday.
Political parties and independent organizations have spent or committed to spending more than $342 million on ads since the 2000 election cycle began in January 1999, already surpassing the entire 1996 cycle, according to the study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
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A separate study by the University of Wisconsin and the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that the Democratic and Republican parties have combined to spend at least $44.2 million on ads since June. All of the ads featured their presidential candidates and most were paid for with so-called soft money donations.
The party advertising that features presidential candidates has been controversial because federal law prohibits the spending of soft money donations to influence the outcome of the election.
Campaign finance laws 'are dead and buried'
"Looking at these hard facts leaves no room for doubt, the campaign finance [laws] in this country are dead and buried," said E. Joshua Rosenkrantz, president of the Brennan Center. "The American political parties are engaged in the greatest money-laundering scheme in history."
The parties interpret the law to mean they can spend soft money on "issue advocacy" ads, which legally aren't for the purpose of influencing the presidential race.
But according to the Brennan analysis of the largest 75 media markets, the parties have opted to run their ads only in states where the presidential race is competitive.
In fact, the Republican Party has accelerated its ad spending in places such as Florida, a traditional GOP stronghold where Vice President Al Gore has been rising in the polls. The two parties and their candidates are waging their ad war across a battlefield of about 17 states--a field that has essentially left out major media markets such as Los Angeles and New York.
Since the Democrats fired off the first ad in June, the party and Gore have aired their heaviest volume in Flint, Mich., followed by Scranton, Pa., and Pittsburgh. Republicans and the Bush campaign have been running their heaviest volume in Scranton, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, according to the Brennan study.
The last two weeks have seen the Bush campaign and Republican Party draw even in spending, pouring in a combined $8.7 million in the two weeks ending Sept. 13, about 18% more than the $7.4 million spent by Gore and the Democrats, the study found.
Data for the study come from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending in the top 75 markets.
The Brennan study found that few independent groups have advertised in the presidential race so far.
But the independent groups are deluging congressional and state races with money, according to the Annenberg study. More than 125 different groups are running ads this cycle, more than the last two cycles combined, the study concluded.
The largest segment of the issue ads, about 24%, focuses on health care, followed by the environment and gun control. The independent groups spending the most are backed by major industries--Citizens for Better Medicare, a group founded largely by the pharmaceutical industry, has spent about $34 million on ads, many of them aimed at a half-dozen competitive congressional races.
But there has been an explosion of smaller groups as well. A group called the Republican Ideas Political Committee, for example, said it has raised $70,000 to hit the air in Kansas City, Mo., with a controversial spot in which a harried mother says her son's public school has "a bit more diversity than he could handle."
Ads now focus on specific candidates
More than in the past, the ads are focusing on specific candidates instead of issues. So far this cycle, 52% of the issue ads have mentioned candidates, compared with about 35% at the same period in the 1998 election cycle, the study found.
Since the Annenberg researchers last surveyed issue-ad spending in March, the parties and independent groups have spent or committed an additional $224 million to ads.
Because Annenberg relied on the organizations themselves to provide some spending data, researchers said the numbers may not be precise. But the center has used the same methodology for three elections, so its estimates of the changes in spending should be accurate, officials said.
At this point in the race, "it's clearer who the targets are," said Lorie Slass, director of Annenberg's Washington office. "More groups are entering the fray. They want to get close to election day to spend their money."