November 12, 2002
Through Election Day, $12,751,734 was spent this year to air 35,644 ads on stations in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Madison. The most ads ran on Madison stations, where 12,268 ads aired from January 1 through November 5 at a cost of $3,137,823. Milwaukee stations charged the most for political ads, taking in $6,742,981 to air campaign ads 11,379 times. Green Bay stations took in $2,870,930 for 11,997 ads. The figures obtained by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign were compiled by the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), a private firm that tracks political advertising on television. (See table below.)
CMAG’s figures provide only a partial accounting of total spending on political ads in Wisconsin because the firm monitored 16 of the state’s 41 TV stations in the largest three markets among the state’s seven television markets.
Nationally, candidates, parties and issue groups spent $995.5 million to air 1,497,386 ads on 561 stations in the nation’s top 100 markets through November 5.
The cost of TV ads fueled record spending in Wisconsin’s race for governor. Candidates spent at least $17.75 million with some spending yet to be reported, WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. Special interest groups spent millions more on their own independent campaigns in the race, bringing total spending to at least $21.5 million, McCabe added. The previous record for spending in a race for governor was $8.1 million in 1998.
"If you wonder what happened to Wisconsin politics, the obvious answer is TV happened. The cost of TV ads is the driving force behind runaway campaign spending, and the political arms race is the root cause of the corruption scandal in the Capitol," McCabe said.
Recently introduced federal legislation aims to free candidates from the need to raise such huge sums of campaign money in order to communicate with voters. Last month, U.S. Senators John McCain, Russ Feingold and Richard Durbin introduced S. 3124, the Political Campaign Broadcast Activity Improvement Act, in the Senate. The bill requires TV and radio stations, as part of the public interest obligation they incur when they receive a free broadcast license, to air at least two hours a week of candidate-centered or issue-centered programming during the period before elections. It also would provide qualified candidates and parties up to $750 million worth of broadcast vouchers that could be used to place political advertisements on television and radio stations in each two-year election cycle. In addition, the legislation closes loopholes in the "lowest unit cost" provision in federal law to ensure that candidates receive the same advertising rates that stations give to their high-volume, year-round advertisers.
"Candidates for public office shouldn’t have to sell their souls to wealthy special interests in order to be able to talk to voters. The airwaves belong to the public and broadcasters have been given exclusive use of the airwaves free of charge. They have reaped windfall profits from this arrangement," McCabe said, citing Federal Communications Commission figures showing the profits of the nation’s TV stations averaged 33 percent, compared to average profits of 6.8 percent for Fortune 500 companies. "Broadcasters are supposed to serve the public interest in exchange for their free licenses. It is hardly in the public interest to force political candidates to prostitute themselves."
|Station||Number of Ads||Estimated Cost|
|Green Bay Total||11,997||$2,870,930|
|Source: Campaign Media Analysis Group and the Alliance for Better Campaigns|