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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Political ad money flows to local broadcast outlets

Obama is biggest spender so far in local TV, radio market

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Regular and even occasional television viewers hardly need to be told this, but we'll say it anyway: You're being inundated with political advertising.

Political money is flooding into Toledo as never before, say television ad managers, and the cash flow is aimed especially at Ohio's presidential and Senate races.

As of Friday morning, Toledo-area TV and radio stations had booked more than $7.8 million in advertising this year -- and local channels have not yet heard from presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The biggest spender so far is Democratic President Obama, with $2.1 million in air time reserved or already spent on Toledo television.

And although Mr. Romney hasn't purchased a minute on Toledo TV or radio, his surrogates have been spending as never before:

The second-biggest spender in the Toledo area is Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, which has purchased $1.3 million worth of time in Toledo. ' ads are split between attacking President Obama and attacking U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio).

The Tea Party group Americans For Prosperity has committed or spent more than $466,000 for Toledo TV advertising to attack President Obama on the economy and on health care.

And Restore Our Future, identified by the campaign finance watchdog group Opensecrets.org as the top-spending "super PAC" in the country, is supporting Mr. Romney with more than $480,000 in the Toledo market, starting before the March 6 Republican p rimary.

American Crossroads, a sister organization to Crossroads GPS and equally committed to opposing President Obama, on Friday reserved $297,033 to advertise in the final three weeks of the election season on WTOL-TV.

Outside groups are collecting and disbursing unlimited funds to spend on influencing the American voter, thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United that frees super political action committees from limits on how much they can raise or spend on political candidates, as long as they do not coordinate with official campaigns.

More than $1 billion is expected to be spent on both sides in the run-up to the November presidential election.

"Absolutely. I would say right now a lot more money has been spent at our station than in 2008 at this point," said Chris Topf, president and chief executive officer of NBC affiliate WNWO-TV. "In 2008 the ruling hadn't come down yet on corporations spending PAC money, so there's a lot more money to be spent. It's good for everybody's bottom line."

A battleground

Ohio is getting more than its share of political advertising.

Trade publication Media News Daily reported on July 6 that two Ohio media markets -- Cleveland and Columbus -- ranked among the top 10 in the country for political spending for the year as of June 24, reflecting Ohio's importance as a swing state. Cleveland ranked second, with $17.7 million committed, and Columbus ranked eighth, with $10.6 million.

Bob Chirdon, vice president and general manager of CBS affiliate WTOL-TV, Channel 11, said Ohio is being courted even more aggressively than in past elections because of its role as a swing state.

Ohio has voted with the winner in every presidential election since 1964, the only state to have done so.

"I would say it's a significant increase over a normal election year, particularly in the third quarter. They seem to be focusing their resources on the voters in swing states.

"I think the number of swing states becomes fewer as the country firms up," Mr. Chirdon said.

The Obama campaign is spending on local cable, with $118,000 spent with Buckeye CableSystem through June, and an additional $74,842 in ads scheduled to be aired in July, said Steve Piller, vice president for sales for Buckeye, which, like The Blade, is owned by Block Communications Inc.

Big spenders such as the Obama campaign and Crossroads GPS seem to blanket the spectrum, buying time on news shows, game shows, Sunday talk shows, and sports programming.

Being competitive

The Blade visited each television station and the two major radio companies in the city to review all the advertising contracts, which are public records.

Newspapers also sell political advertising but are not required to make their political advertising contracts available publicly.

Mark Luetke, president of FLS Group, a division of Thread Marketing Group of Toledo, said, "The general rule of thumb is if you're not on TV you can't be competitive, but that's not to say that's the only media you need to win."

The explosion in Internet advertising, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media have created new ways to reach voters.

He said some of the big spending may be a result of nothing more than that groups freed up from spending and contribution restraints have money to spend.

"Sometimes a huge TV spin happens because they can do it. They've got the money," Mr. Luetke said.

Relatively little of the television and radio advertising was about local races.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) racked up $33,686 in advertising on TV and radio in the week leading up to her March 6 Democratic primary victory over fellow Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Graham Veysey, both of whom also bought air time in the bitterly contested primary.

Also spending in the primary was Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Texas conservative super-PAC which dumped about $21,000 into TV air time in Toledo to defeat Miss Kaptur.

It was a singularly ineffective expenditure, however, as Miss Kaptur defeated Mr. Kucinich with 94 percent of the Democratic vote in Lucas County.

Senate race

The campaigns of Democratic Senator Brown and his Republican opponent, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, have similar amounts of money reserved for television advertising in the Toledo area, between $530,000 and $550,000 each.

Both candidates are being aided by third-party issue organizations, but Mr. Mandel appears to have the edge.

Many of the commercials by Crossroads GPS are aimed at Senator Brown, and the committee has said it plans to pump an additional $6.7 million into Ohio to defeat him in the Nov. 6 election.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been running biting anti-Brown ads since April, with more than $387,000 spent.

American Commitment -- labeled "shadowy" by the Brown campaign -- spent $91,000 to air commercials against the senator between June 25 and July 11.

Senator Brown repeatedly has denigrated the Crossroads, American Commitment, and chamber ads as being funded by secret special interests because they do not disclose the sources of their funding.

"Sherrod is the No.1 target of secretly funded special interests who want to see Josh Mandel in Washington because they know he'll do their bidding," said Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Zucker. "Due to Citizens United we're going to see more outside money spent in Ohio and across the U.S. than we've seen in previous elections."

The Brown campaign said Mr. Mandel and his allies have $23 million spent or reserved, while Travis Considine, spokesman for Mr. Mandel, said the Brown campaign and its allies have spent or reserved $13 million worth of advertising through the fall.

"That number includes groups like Harry Reid's Majority PAC, the radical environmental group Earthjustice, and the strictly negative advertising that 38-year politician Sherrod Brown has done to date," Mr. Considine said.

Some big-spending groups have jumped in to help Senator Brown, the biggest one being Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nevada).

The PAC has spent $162,000, including on ads that ended Wednesday on WTVG-TV, Channel 13 (ABC) and WNWO-TV, Channel 24 (NBC). The ad closely parrots the attacks on Mr. Mandel by the Brown campaign, referring to Mr. Mandel as "a politician we can't afford." The Brown campaign calls Mr. Mandel "a politician we can't trust."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reserved $107,695 on WTOL for the final two weeks of the election to support Senator Brown's re-election.

Another group that has advertised on behalf of Senator Brown is MomsRising, which thanked Senator Brown because he "stood up to those who would've allowed industrial power plants to release unchecked toxic mercury and other harmful pollution into our air." The group poured $54,245 into ads that ran on all the local TV channels starting June 25.

President Obama's ads were running full throttle in the days before his two-day bus trip that started in Maumee and took him to Cleveland.

Mr. Romney is due in Toledo Wednesday for a fund-raiser and likely a public event as well but so far has purchased no ad time in Toledo.

However, the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future plunked down $7 million in June to buy ads in eight battleground states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, of which $63,000 appears to have been designated for the Toledo market -- about half of that to WTOL-TV.

Ruling's impact

In an example of how the Citizens United decision has effectively erased campaign finance limits, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson personally donated $10 million to Restore Our Future, which is run by former Romney aides. The group spent millions during the primary attacking Mr. Romney's rivals.

Restore Our Future is functioning as if it were an arm of the Romney campaign. A Restore Our Future ad that ran in Iowa touted Mr. Romney as someone who "turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs," through his former investment firm Bain Capital.

The PAC recently spent $7.6 million in barrage of ads in late June in nine states, including Ohio.

An ad that ran in Ohio jumped on the controversy created by Obama supporter Hillary Rosen, who said Ann Romney, the wife of the candidate, "has never worked a day in her life." Restore Our Future's ad says Mrs. Romney raised five sons and successfully battled breast cancer and is dealing with multiple sclerosis.

Of course, Mr. Obama is not all alone in the airwaves of Toledo. The pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action spent $42,246 on Toledo television in April to attack Mr. Romney over the record of Bain Capital putting factories out of business.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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