More than $3 million in political ads are scheduled for Denver’s five major TV stations, with at least $1.3 million scheduled for fall, when campaigns will heat up near the Nov. 4 election.
The early ad buys are signs of a heated U.S. Senate race and a competitive 6th Congressional District race that are already attracting outside groups willing to spend big bucks attacking one candidate and supporting another.
Such early buys aren’t necessarily out of line, said Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president for political at Kantar Media Ad Intelligence, who helps track such ads.
“It’s not unusual for political advertisers to lay in spending now for advertising in the fall, especially in markets that are hosting multiple competitive races (in the case of Denver, US Senate and US House),” Wilner wrote in an an email. “The worst that can happen when you lay in early is that the station comes back later requesting a higher rate, at which point you have the chance to either pay it or step back.”
The Colorado Independent analyzed contracts filed by the five stations with the Federal Communications Commission. Stations in the top 50 television markets must file political ad information online with the FCC. Beginning in June, all stations in all markets will be required to file political ad information.
The ads scheduled thus far would take up a total of about 28.5 hours of TV time. Of the $3 million, about $1.3 million favors the GOP, $1.1 million favors Democrats and another $649,150 is focused on issues.
On Tuesday, Target Enterprises, a media firm that represented Americans For Prosperity in past ad buys, contracted for more 1,300 spots in September, October and November at a cost of more than $740,000 on KMGH Channel 7. The contract doesn’t say who the client is, and Target didn’t respond to a request for information about the contract. But it’s likely the ads will attack Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and support Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner.
AFP already has run two ads attacking Udall over Obamacare. AFP is a conservative nonprofit group funded in part by the Koch brother, wealthy business people with oil and gas interests. Because the group is a nonprofit, it doesn’t have to reveal its donors.
Also buying time for the fall is the House Majority PAC. KMGH filed a contract Monday for almost $67,000 for October ads. Those ads likely will be aimed at opposing incumbent 6th Congressional District Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, and supporting Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff. House Majority PAC spent almost $50,000 airing ads against Coffman last summer, according to FEC reports.
A pro-fracking group, Protect Colorado’s Environment, Energy and Economy, has contracts for more than $519,000 in ads to air in September, October and early November just on KMGH, the only station that has filed early contracts. The group was formed in January and hasn’t had to file disclosures with the Secretary of State yet.
A spokesman for the group told the Colorado Independent in February that the group was planning ahead in case an anti-fracking initiative is on the ballot. The group’s website appears under development.
“It just makes sense to lock it in now,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project that examines ad spending.
Ridout said campaigns may be taking lessons from 2012, when President Barack Obama attacked GOP challenger Mitt Romney in early spring ads — and bought up fall advertising early.
“Romney couldn’t get away from that reputation as the uncaring, rich guy,” Ridout said. “It got toward the end of the race in some of those swing states and there wasn’t air time to be had or they were spending exorbitant prices for that airtime.”
Udall became the first candidate to run ads this week, with a $500,000 ad buy attacking Gardner’s position on abortion. The Republican last month withdrew his long-time support of a personhood amendment that’s been rejected twice by Colorado voters amid concerns it would ban some forms of birth control.
“If they’re able to effectively define their opponent at this time, yes, that early advertising can be effective,” Ridout said. “The other side of the coin is, are voters even paying attention at this stage?”
Ridout said the bulk of campaign spending on major races goes to television advertising, even though some would say that mobilizing voters by contacting them directly may be more effective.
“Getting your media buyer to spend $1 million is really quick and simple and easy to do,” Ridout said. “Mobilizing is a more difficult task.”
Television ad buys also aim at a specific audience, often older people who are more likely to vote and more likely to watch local TV news.
Colorado Independent’s analysis shows most of the spending and planned spending for political ads is from outside groups. Such groups spent about $30 million in the 2010 Senate matchup race that Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet narrowly won over Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.
The League of Conservation Voters is spending almost $1 million on ads attacking Gardner’s ties to the oil and gas industry, while Americans for Prosperity spent a similar amount attacking Udall for supporting the Affordable Care Act.
But TV ads aren’t the only kind of spending outside groups are doing. The Federal Election Commission requires political committees to file details about independent expenditures, including how much money is spent and how it’s spent.
The Conservation Voters, a national environmental organization that spent heavily in the 2010 Colorado Senate race, reported to the Federal Election Commission that they plan to spend $22,000 on polling in the Senate race. The House Majority Project is spending almost $18,000 this month on online ads opposing Coffman.
The super PAC Conservative Strikeforce is spending almost $8,300 on emails and phone calls opposing Udall.
Ridout said the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United allowing unlimited contributions to certain outside groups and subsequent decisions make this a big money year, even though there isn’t a presidential election.
“There’s worries out there there there’s so much money.”