Election Day 2016: 'Ad it Up'

Nov 8, 2016

If it seems like your TV time has been carpet-bombed with campaign ads, some data shows that you’re right.

Credit Ohio Valley Resource

Jeff Young reports that parts of the Ohio Valley region stand out in analysis of big campaign spending and high volume TV spots.

That never-ending stream of negative ads you’ve been seeing is largely driven by three factors: wealthy candidates; outside groups; and an uptick in spending on down-ballot races.

For all the focus on the presidential race, Advertising Age magazine reported that as of September spending on ads for U.S. Senate races had outpaced the presidential ads.

In Ohio the race between incumbent Republican Rob Portman and former Democratic governor Ted Strickland is the fourth most expensive Senate race in the country. The candidates have spent about $31 million combined.

That sounds like a lot until you see the analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, which shows that outside groups spent another $51 million on that race. And most of that money went toward negative ads and campaign material attacking an opponent.

By comparison Kentucky’s Senate race, between Republican incumbent Rand Paul and Democratic Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, seems like a bargain, with just about $17 million spent by both candidates and outside groups.

In West Virginia it’s state-level races generating a lot of the ads.

Ben Wieder at the Center for Public Integrity says, "There’s been a ton of ads in West Virginia, it’s really quite a lot."

The nonprofit journalism outlet analyzed TV ad data and found that West Virginians have seen more than 58,000 ads this election cycle just on state-level races. About $13 million was spent on those ads, mostly in races for governor, attorney general, and the state supreme court. That works out to about 10 bucks per eligible voter in the mountain state.

Part of that’s driven by the Democratic candidate for governor, Jim Justice, a billionaire who’s using his own fortune to run ads against his opponent Republican state senator Bill Cole.

The wealthy Democrat running for attorney general, Doug Reynolds, is also self-financing some of his campaign.
But Weider says a lot of the ad money is from national groups spending big on what were once small local races.“They think they have a shot so they are spending like crazy to swing the state in their direction,” he says.

Outside national groups are responsible for about half the spending on ads in the west virginia attorney general race. The biggest spending Political Action Committee takes its name from the state’s motto: the Mountaineers Are Always Free PAC. But Wieder says it’s really a local name for the national Republican Attorneys General Association.

“ So it looks, when you see it on tv, it sounds like a local group playing in this race but in fact it is someone in an office in Washington, DC, probably not too far from mine.”

If you’re looking for a silver lining in this, well, candidates do pledge to boost the economy and they’re making good on that one ad buy at a time.