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Battle of "Soft Money" Spending on TV Ads Rages on Between Bush and Gore / Vice President Tries to Weather Republican Advantage With Support of Friendly Third-Party Groups

Brennan Center Study Finds Planned Parenthood Spent More on Pro-Gore Ads in Past Two Weeks than the Democratic National Committee

January 16, 2000

For Immediate Release
October 16, 2000

Contact Information:
Steve Rabinowitz, 202 547-3577
Scott Schell, 212 998-66318
Ken Goldstein, University of Wisconsin - Madison,
608 263-2390

Battle of “Soft Money” Spending on TV Ads Rages on Between Bush and Gore
Vice President Tries to Weather Republican Advantage with Suupor of Friendly Third-Party Groups

Brennan Center Study Finds Planned Parenthood Spent More on Pro-Gore Ads in Past Two Weeks than the Democratic National Committee

Gore dedicating resources to traditional Democratic states - Wisconsin, Oregon, West Virginia and Washington

In a presidential campaign dominated by “soft money” spending on television ads, Vice President Al Gore increasingly is relying upon traditionally friendly interest groups to remain competitive with Governor George W. Bush in the advertising air wars. During the two weeks ending October 8, the Republican Party dramatically outspent the Democratic Party on television ads, by a margin of $3,234,000 to $1,353,000. The Republican National Committee’s soft money edge was completely erased, however, by $2.3 million in television ads purchased by independent groups in support of Vice President Gore during the last week of September and first week of October, the period for which the most recent data are available.

During the two week period ending October 8, Planned Parenthood spent $1.5 million on television ads supporting Vice President Gore - slightly more than was spent by the Democratic National Committee. Other leading groups purchasing pro-Gore ads during this period were Handgun Control Inc. ($296,000), the AFL-CIO ($239,000), and the Sierra Club ($306,000). No independent groups purchased pro-Bush ads during this period.

These findings are the latest in an ongoing 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 are analyzing political advertising in real time for the duration of the 2000 campaign. Every political ad aired in these media markets is reviewed, quantified and coded along an extensive array of variables.

According to the Brennan Center study, from the end of the primary season through October 8 - exactly 30 days before the election - the Republican and Democratic parties have spent $57 million on ads, while combined spending by the Bush and Gore campaigns was $33 million. The 1996 presidential election marked the first time that soft money from corporations and unions was used by the parties in large amounts to buy television ads: combined spending by the Clinton and Dole campaigns in 1996 was $71 million, compared to $48 million in spending on ads by the parties. The difference in the 2000 election is that party soft money spending now dominates candidate spending. The party ads are indistinguishable from the candidate ads: All ads paid for by the Republican and Democratic parties in the current campaign mention a candidate, and none reference the party, even though the “soft money” paying for the ads is supposedly restricted by law to party-building activities.

“The two-headed monster of ‘sham issue advocacy’ and ‘soft money’ has reared its ugly head and bitten the Republicans on the rear,” said Brennan Center President E. Joshua Rosenkranz. “The Republican Party finally pulls ahead in the soft money race, only to have its advantage erased by independent groups with a virtually uniform Democratic bias. These groups would be out of the elections completely, if only the Senate Republican leadership had not killed reform efforts. This is a fable with a clear moral: The monster has no friends. Kill it while you can, because you might be its next victim.”

Since his first debate encounter with Vice President Gore two weeks ago, Gov. Bush and his campaign have routinely described themselves as being outspent by the Gore campaign and its allies. In fact, from the end of the primary season through October 8, the Bush campaign spent $19.2 million on television ads compared to $13.5 million of ads paid for by the Gore campaign. Spending on ads by the Republican and Democratic parties is virtually identical through October 8, with the RNC spending $27.8 million and the DNC spending $28.9 million. Even when group spending in support of Gore is factored in, total spending on ads for the two presidential candidates through October 8 is a draw: $47.3 million for Bush; $47.6 million for Gore.

Moreover, the analysis provided by the Brennan Center and Professor Goldstein since Labor Day reveals trends that should result in a decided advantage in Republican Party soft money spending by the end of the campaign. First, a lead enjoyed by the Democratic Party over the Republican Party in spending on ads through mid-September has disappeared. Second, on the basis of a spot review of activity from October 9-11, it appears that the Democratic National Committee is leaving the field and is no longer paying for ads in major markets in swing states.

The Brennan Center study finds that a handful of Midwestern states recognized previously as battlegrounds in the presidential election - Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Michigan - continue to receive massive spending on ads. “It’s also clear,” says University of Wisconsin - Madison Professor Kenneth Goldstein, “that the Bush camp is still fighting to secure Florida, and Gore is struggling to secure Wisconsin, Oregon, West Virginia, and Washington - states that are ‘must haves’ in any winning Democratic election calculus. Over the next two weeks, paying attention to where the candidates target will tell us as much as public opinion surveys on the nature and competitiveness of the race.”

In addition, Citizens for Better Medicare, an independent group funded by the pharmaceutical industry, has had an enormous presence in many of the battleground states and media markets targeted by Governor Bush’s campaign. Citizens for Better Medicare has spent more than $7 million on ads advocating Medicare proposals similar to those advocated by Governor Bush. Professor Goldstein explained, “Because they steer clear of mentioning a candidate, the ads run by Citizens for Better Medicare are different from those run by the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, Handgun Control, and the Sierra Club on behalf of Vice President Gore. Those ads are virtually indistinguishable from the ads run by the Gore campaign and Democratic Party. As a result, we do not code ads paid for by Citizens for Better Medicare as electioneering. Nevertheless, given the volume and targeting of these ads, they are an important part of the story of this presidential campaign.”

These findings make the 2000 campaign the first-ever in which information describing candidates’ use of the television airwaves will be available to voters, political scientists, and campaign analysts in real time. The Brennan Center study will continue for the duration of the campaign and reveals the untold story of television advertising paid for by candidates, parties, and groups:

  • Spending on ads by candidates, parties, and allied groups.
  • Priority media markets targeted by the Republican and Democratic parties during the most recent two weeks.
  • Analysis of party advertising.
The findings for the 2000 election cycle build on the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Television Advertising in the 1998 Congressional Elections, available online at www.buyingtime.org. Among the 1998 findings was the revelation that the definition used to identify campaign appeals, which relies on so-called magic words such as “vote for,” “elect,” or “defeat,” captured only 4 percent of the advertisements run by congressional candidates. The narrowness of the definition allows parties and groups to sponsor ads indistinguishable from those run by candidates, yet these ads escape the obligations of campaign finance law.

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 Scott Schell at (212) 998-6318.

Explanatory Notes for Accompanying Tables:

  • 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.

  • Table 1: Presidential Race - Comparison of Spending on Ads and Tone. For comparisons of aggregate spending on ads, measurements are made in dollars spent on ads.
Click here to view tables.

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