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2000 Presidential Race First In Modern History Where Political Parties Spend More On TV Ads Than Candidates

For Imme­di­ate Release
Monday, Decem­ber 11, 2000

Contact Inform­a­tion:
Steve Rabinow­itz, Matt Dorf, 202 547–3577
Scott Schell, 212 998–6318
Ken Gold­stein, Univ. of Wiscon­sin-Madison, 608 263–2390

2000 Pres­id­en­tial Race First in Modern Host­ory Where Polit­ical Partues Spend More on TV Ads Than Candid­ates
Party “Soft Money” from Corpor­a­tions and Labor Unions-Restric­ted by Law to Party Build­ing Fuels $79.9 Million in Ads for Candid­ates

Bush Uses Spend­ing Advant­age to Buy $11 Million of Ads in Cali­for­nia Loss; Gore Outspends Bush on TV Ads to Win Mich., Penn., Wisc., Wash., and Other Battle­grounds

The 2000 elec­tion is the first in the history of the current regu­lat­ory regime where more tele­vi­sion advert­ising dollars were spent by the major national polit­ical parties than by their chosen candid­ates, accord­ing to a study by the Bren­nan Center for Justice and Prof. Kenneth Gold­stein. The Repub­lican National Commit­tee and the Demo­cratic National Commit­tee together spent $79.9 million on tele­vi­sion ads in the 2000 pres­id­en­tial campaign, far more than the $67.1 million spent by the campaigns of Gov. Bush and Vice Pres­id­ent Gore, the study says.

The vast major­ity of money spent by the parties on tele­vi­sion ads was “soft money,” the unreg­u­lated and unlim­ited party dona­tions from corpor­a­tions, labor unions, and wealthy indi­vidu­als. By law, soft money is to be used only for party-build­ing activ­it­ies. The TV ads purchased by the Bush and Gore campaigns during the general elec­tion were funded exclus­ively with taxpayer dollars provided to the candid­ates, under a 1974 law, in exchange for their prom­ises not to raise or spend money from other sources.

Though the parties spent substan­tial sums on tele­vi­sion ads for the first time in the 1996 Clin­ton-Dole pres­id­en­tial contest, combined spend­ing by the parties trailed spend­ing by the candid­ates $48.8 million to $67.3 million, accord­ing to Compet­it­ive Media Report­ing. One elec­tion cycle later, party soft money now buys the lion’s share of the ads for the pres­id­en­tial candid­ates. “Soft money has become the loop­hole that swal­lowed the law,” says E. Joshua Rosen­kranz, pres­id­ent of the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. “The play­ers that are legally barred from running any ads for candid­ates are now buying most of the air time, and illegal money is now more preval­ent in our elec­tions than legal money. The new Congress needs to get very seri­ous, very quickly about ending this trav­esty of a campaign finance system.”

These find­ings are from an unpre­ced­en­ted study of polit­ical tele­vi­sion advert­ising by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, conduc­ted in conjunc­tion with polit­ical scient­ist Kenneth Gold­stein of the Univer­sity of Wiscon­sin-Madison. The study is funded by the Pew Char­it­able Trusts. Using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group (’CMAG’) to monitor polit­ical advert­ising in the nation’s top 75 media markets, reach­ing over 80 percent of the U.S. popu­la­tion, the Bren­nan Center and Professor Gold­stein have been analyz­ing polit­ical advert­ising in real time through­out the 2000 campaign. Every polit­ical ad aired in these media markets is reviewed, quan­ti­fied and coded along an extens­ive array of vari­ables.

“Keep in mind, the figures on party spend­ing are conser­vat­ive,” says Professor Kenneth Gold­stein of the Univer­sity of Wiscon­sin­Madison. “At the campaign’s close, when the demand for tele­vi­sion air time was greatest, the parties, but not the candid­ates, were charged premium rates by the broad­cast stations. So the $79.9 million in spend­ing on ads by the RNC and DNC, and the $13 million gap in party spend­ing over candid­ate spend­ing, likely under­state party domin­ance in the 2000 pres­id­en­tial race. Another factor to consider is that the data used in our study is limited to the nation’s 75 largest media markets.”

Nation­wide, total spend­ing on ads for Bush exceeded spend­ing on ads for Gore by $9 million, $86.1 million to $77.1 million. The Bush team dedic­ated $10.8 million to winning Cali­for­nia?s 54 elect­oral votes, yet they lost the state by 12 percent­age points, 54% to 42%. Al Gore did not spend a single dollar in Cali­for­nia on tele­vi­sion ads. “Bush’s massive spend­ing in Cali­for­nia only Flor­ida and Pennsylvania received more ad dollars erased his advert­ising advant­age over Gore in other import­ant states,” Professor Gold­stein says. “As a result, the Vice Pres­id­ent was able to outspend Governor Bush in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wiscon­sin and Wash­ing­ton, and in New Mexico, Oregon and Iowa all states that Bush lost by tiny margins. The second guess­ing will be muted if Bush becomes pres­id­ent, but polit­ical strategists are sure to ques­tion that Cali­for­nia ad buy.”

With their candid­ate stand­ing just three elect­oral votes shy of winning the pres­id­ency, the Gore camp can revisit numer­ous stra­tegic decisions, as well. At the top of the list is the Vice Pres­id­ent’s home state, Tennessee, where Gov. Bush, the RNC and inde­pend­ent groups spent more on tele­vi­sion ads ($1.1 million) than did Gore and his support­ers ($869,000). Gore was also outspent and lost tradi­tion­ally Demo­cratic West Virginia, and suffered narrow losses in New Hamp­shire and Nevada. Mean­while, Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s home state, Arkan­sas, saw Bush win after roughly equal spend­ing on behalf of the candid­ates. In Arizona, which Clin­ton carried in ‘96 and nearly carried in ‘92, Bush won after no TV ad spend­ing there. Any one of these states would have made the differ­ence for the Vice Pres­id­ent without tossup Flor­ida.

In Flor­ida, combined Bush campaign and Repub­lican Party ad spend­ing was nearly even with Gore and Demo­cratic spend­ing in the key West Palm Beach, Tampa-St. Peters­burg and Orlando media markets. But in the polit­ic­ally conser­vat­ive markets of (Mobile, AL-)Pensa­cola and Jack­son­ville, Bush forces substan­tially outspent Gore ($820,000–350,000 in Pensa­cola, $1.1 million-$130,000 in Jack­son­ville). And in all-import­ant Miami reach­ing Miami-Dade and much of Broward counties Bush and the Repub­lic­ans spent $6 million to Gore and the Demo­crats’ $3.4 million. Unlike other battle­ground states, perhaps most note­worthy is that Gore enjoyed nearly no inde­pend­ent TV ad spend­ing on his behalf anywhere in Flor­ida.

Inde­pend­ent groups spent roughly equal amounts on ads for Repub­lican and Demo­cratic candid­ates in all federal races in the 2000 campaign, but they focused on differ­ent contests. With Citizens for Better Medi­care (a phar­ma­ceut­ical industry group), U.S. Cham­ber of Commerce, Busi­ness Roundtable, and Amer­ic­ans for Job Secur­ity (a Sec. 527 group backed by Sen. Major­ity Leader Trent Lott) taking the lead, groups spent $27.5 million on ads for Repub­lican candid­ates in 2000, with three-quar­ters of that money $20.5 million dedic­ated to U.S. House races. Led by Planned Parent­hood, AFL-CIO, Hand­gun Control, and Emily’s List, inde­pend­ent groups spent $29 million on ads for Demo­cratic candid­ates, with roughly half that sum $14 million spent in the pres­id­en­tial contest.

The dispar­ity in spend­ing by inde­pend­ent groups in the pres­id­en­tial race was strik­ing: $14 million in ads for Gore, compared to $2.1 million in ads for Bush. Group spend­ing accoun­ted for 18% of all ads aired for Gore, with one group, Planned Parent­hood, paying for almost 10% of ads for Gore. In sharp contrast, groups paid for just 2.4% of ads for Bush.

“No candid­ate is safe from a barrage of sham issue ads, or from a tidal wave of party soft money,” says E. Joshua Rosen­kranz, the Bren­nan Center pres­id­ent. “From George W. Bush to Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL), Repub­lican candid­ates faced the consequences of expo­nen­tial increases in campaign spend­ing no differ­ent from their Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts. Clearly, party affil­i­ation is not a shield. I expect the Repub­lican lead­er­ship in this new Congress will finally see the wisdom of reform­ing the campaign finance system.”

In one of its most unex­pec­ted find­ings, the Bren­nan Center study revealed that the Demo­cratic Party spent $22.7 million on TV ads for House candid­ates versus only $16.8 million by the Repub­lican Party in House races. Conven­tional wisdom weighed heav­ily against such an outcome: histor­ic­ally, the Demo­cratic Party spends less than the Repub­lican Party on TV ads; as the “out” or minor­ity party, Demo­crats faced stiffer fundrais­ing chal­lenges; and the Demo­cratic Party tradi­tion­ally spends a larger portion of its campaign war chest on field organ­iz­ing than does the Repub­lican Party. Nonethe­less, the Demo­cratic Congres­sional Campaign Commit­tee spent $5.9 million more on TV ads than its Repub­lican coun­ter­part an edge of more than 25 percent.

Inde­pend­ent groups support­ing Repub­lican candid­ates, led by Citizens for Better Medi­care and the Cham­ber of Commerce, evened the scales in contests for U.S. House seats by spend­ing $20.5 million on TV ads in House races. In sharp contrast, groups spent just $2.1 million on ads for Gov. Bush, only one-tenth of their spend­ing for House candid­ates. “It appears that the phar­ma­ceut­ical compan­ies and the U.S. Cham­ber didn’t need a study to know where their spend­ing could help most,” says E. Joshua Rosen­kranz, Bren­nan Center pres­id­ent. “Clearly, these groups calcu­lated and calcu­lated with great preci­sion how their surrog­ate advert­ising dollars could best be used in the battle for control of the House, and they under­stood that Gov. Bush and the RNC had enough money on hand to outspend the Vice Pres­id­ent without them.”

The historic close­ness in the 2000 federal elec­tions, both in races for the pres­id­ency and for control of the Congress, was reflec­ted or perhaps caused by remark­able partisan parity in the resources devoted to tele­vi­sion advert­ising in these contests. Total spend­ing by candid­ates, parties and groups, shows that in this elec­tion Repub­lic­ans and Demo­crats battled to a stan­doff in the tele­vi­sion air wars:

      All ads for Bush: $75.3 million (discount­ing Bush?s Calif. ad buy)
      All ads for Gore: $77.1 million

      All ads for Repub. Senate candid­ates: $87.0 million
      All ads for Dem. Senate candid­ates: $88.1 million

      All ads for Repub. House candid­ates: $72.9 million
      All ads for Dem. House candid­ates: $71.6 million

The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law devel­ops and imple­ments a nonpar­tisan agenda of schol­ar­ship, public educa­tion and legal action that promotes equal­ity and human dignity, while safe­guard­ing funda­mental freedoms. For more real time inform­a­tion describ­ing the 2000 pres­id­en­tial and congres­sional races contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998–6736.

Explan­at­ory Note

  • Meth­od­o­logy. Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), a commer­cial firm that advises advert­isers and report­ers, compiled the data using tech­no­logy that monit­ors polit­ical advert­ising by the major national broad­cast tele­vi­sion networks and 25 lead­ing cable networks in 75 media markets reach­ing over 80% of the popu­la­tion. Each time an ad ran, CMAG recor­ded the date, time, tele­vi­sion station and length of the ad. The inform­a­tion was later supple­men­ted with estim­ates of the cost for each time slot. CMAG repor­ted the aver­age cost of the time slot for each ad aired. This captured the cost of the media buy, not the amount spent on produc­tion or place­ment.
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