When Colorado’s heated primary season goes cold tomorrow, political TV ads will fade from our screens, too— at least for a while.
That should come as a relief to Coloradans who’ve been pummeled with at least $14.5 million worth of ads thus far, based on political ad contracts filed by traditional and cable TV with the Federal Communications Commission.
The advertising toll is probably even higher, since not all stations file contracts with state-level super PACs, which played an outsized role in this year’s Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries.
In the past week before tomorrow’s vote, candidates and super PACs scheduled another $1.3 million worth of ads, offering a glimpse into just how competitive the two four-way contests for governor are.
Here’s a chart of ad contracts filed from June 18-22. Note that it doesn’t include ads purchased previously to air during the final days.
In the final days, the Republican gubernatorial contest has become a pitched battle between State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and businessman Victor Mitchell. While Mitchell bought plenty of ad time in the past week, Stapleton’s campaign is boosted by two super PACs: Coloradans for Fiscal Responsibility and Colorado Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity. Mitchell doesn’t have a super PAC supporting him.
The Campaign for Jobs and Opportunity reported to the Colorado Secretary of State that it is spending $200,000 on TV ads supporting Stapleton in the last week of the campaign. That’s the same group that came out with last-minute ads opposing former Congressman Tom Tancredo in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. After that election, at least one group accused the Republican Governor’s Association of helping fund those ads. (Tancredo is supporting Stapleton, and nominated him for governor at the April state GOP assembly.)
The sources of money for this year’s last-minute ad buy is unclear. State-level filings on July 2 and federal filings on July 15 may reveal more about the funding, but that will be long after voters cast their ballots on June 26.
Meanwhile, Mitchell’s campaign has sent letters to at least two stations complaining that ads from Coloradans for Fiscal Responsibility include false information. That group has reported spending $400,000 on TV ads attacking Mitchell and supporting Stapleton.
Republican Businessman Doug Robinson, also running for governor, has fewer than 200 ads during the entire month on Denver-area cable TV, all purchased earlier in the month. The super PAC supporting him, Build Colorado’s Future, stopped airing TV ads earlier in this month.
And a fourth candidate, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, is spending less than $10,000 on TV advertising.
On the Democratic side, all four candidates for governor stepped up their ad game last week, with Congressman Jared Polis continuing to lead the way. But former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne aren’t far behind.
Former state Sen. Mike Johnston lags in spending his own money. But the super PAC supporting him, Frontier Fairness, is dropping a total of nearly $2.4 million on TV ads in June, according to independent spending reports filed by the group. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $2 million and LinkedIn co-found Reid Hoffman gave $1 million to the PAC.
Teachers for Kennedy is also spending significantly on TV ads supporting Kennedy, while the Sierra Club and Bold Colorado are supporting Polis. Teachers for Kennedy is funded by teachers unions as well as PACs supporting Democratic women candidates. Bold Colorado is primarily funded by the nonprofit Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, while the state-level Sierra Club received $600,000 from the national nonprofit, making it impossible to know where the cash came from.
Here’s a look at the nearly $12 million of ad spending (and again, it’s more than that because not everyone is reporting spending by Frontier Fairness and similar contracts) on the governor’s contest:
The governor’s race is dominating TV ad time in Colorado’s primary, but other candidates and groups have a presence. Here’s a look at advertising by contest:
In some instances, there are contracts filed for advertisers who are targeting issues instead of particular candidates or contests. For instance, Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development airs ads year-round promoting oil and gas development.
It’s worth noting that in several contests, only one candidate is on TV:
- Democrat Phil Weiser dominates the airwaves in his race against state Rep. Joe Salazar for the attorney general nomination. One of Weiser’s ads features his endorsement from Gov. John Hickenlooper and former AG and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (who isn’t related to Joe).
- Democrat Joe Neguse is the only TV advertiser in the 2nd Congressional District primary, where he faces Mark Williams.
- Democrat Jason Crow is on Denver-area cable TV in his primary contest versus Levi Tillemann for the nomination to face incumbent 6th Congressional District Rep. Mike Coffman.
Finally, here’s a look at all the TV ad spending based on contracts filed through June 22 for advertising to air before Tuesday’s primary:
There may be a respite coming from political ads once Tuesday’s primary is on the books.
The next ads scheduled for the fall begin in late August.
Three federal super PACs have reserved $3.7 million in time leading up to election day to focus on what’s expected to be another heated 6th Congressional District contest between Coffman and his Democratic opponent.
Once the nominees for governor are set, expect the Republican Governors and Democratic Governors associations to step into Colorado in a big way.
And if those nominees are multi-millionaires Mitchell and Polis, expect them to keep investing their own cash in what has become the most expensive governor’s race in Colorado history.
UPDATE: A previous headline indicated $14.5 million was spent in the governor’s race alone. That’s now much was spent so far in all races in Colorado.