Study finds campaign ad spending down in Wisconsin

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Scott Bauer, Associated Press | September 25, 2014

MADISON — It may not seem like it, but there are fewer campaign advertisements on television this year than in 2010.

A report released Wednesday by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity showed that spending on TV ads was down 52 percent this election compared to four years ago. The number of ads was down from 37,465 to just 19,210.

Highlights from the report:



The nationwide study shows that through Sept. 8 about $5.6 million has been spent on campaign ads in Wisconsin, with nearly all of that coming in the governor's race. Through a comparable time in the 2010 election, $11.6 million had been spent on ads.

The 2010 election featured a contested Republican primary for governor, which Scott Walker won, while this year Walker did not face a primary challenge and the Democratic nominee, Mary Burke, had minimal opposition.

Also, in 2010 there was a competitive race for U.S. Senate pitting incumbent Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold against Republican Ron Johnson. There is no Senate race this year.

There are no comparable figures for Walker's 2012 recall election. Estimated total spending in that election, including TV ads, came in at about $81 million — shattering the previous record of $37.4 million spent in the 2010 governor's race.

The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in all of the country's 210 media markets from January 2013 through Sept. 8. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot.



These figures only represent part of the money spend on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, as well television ads on local cable systems or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads can be significantly higher.

The report also doesn't include money spent to reserve air time for ads that have yet to run.

That means recently announced spending in Wisconsin is not included.

The National Rifle Association and the Republican Governors Association-backed group, Right Direction Wisconsin, announced they were airing about $525,000 in ads last week alone. And Emily's List, a group backing Burke, announced on Monday that it was spending $1.2 million on ads for her starting next month.



The report shows that so far Walker has spent an estimated $2.4 million on ads compared with $2.2 million by Burke. The report showed spending by only three outside groups — about $521,000 by the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee, about $160,000 by the RGA and $400 by the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

There were 7,481 attack ads targeting Walker, while 5,566 targeted Burke. No comparisons with 2010 were available.

In the race for attorney general, Democrat Susan Happ spent about $181,000 on ads in the primary, while her challenger Jon Richards spent about $155,000. Happ, the Jefferson County district attorney, defeated Richards to advance to the general election.

The lone Republican in the race, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, has yet to run any ads.



The report may reflect a shift in philosophies by political campaigns, said Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that tracks campaign spending in the state. As people are finding more ways to escape television advertising, campaigns are looking for other ways to get their messages out, he said.

That said, it was surprising that outside groups haven't spent more on the elections this year yet, McCabe said. But McCabe predicted "intense advertising" over the final six weeks of the campaign.

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