Skip Navigation
  • Home
  • Our Work
  • Analysis & Opinion
  • Candidates Come To Strategic Fork In California; Bush Spending More On TV Ads There Than Any Other State, While Gore TV Campaign Remains Dark

Candidates Come To Strategic Fork In California; Bush Spending More On TV Ads There Than Any Other State, While Gore TV Campaign Remains Dark

Brennan Center study finds “soft money” spending on TV ads continues to dominate both presidential and congressional contests

October 31, 2004

For Immediate Release
October 30, 2000

Contact Information
Matt Dorf, 202–547–3577
Steve Rabinowitz, 202–494–7655 Amanda Cooper, 212–998–6736
Ken Goldstein, University of Wisconsin Madison, 608–263–2390

Candidates Come to Strategic Fork in Cslifornia; Bush Spending More on TV Ads There Than Any Other State, While Gore TV Campaign Remains Dark
Bush Spends $2 Million in One Week on TV Ads in California, Allowing Gore to Preserve Edge in TV Wars in Battleground Markets;
Historically Tight Contest Presses Gore to Spend Heavily on TV in “Must-Have” States PA, WA, OR, WI, And MI;
Brennan Center study finds “soft money” spending on TV ads continues to dominate both presidential and congressional contests;
Ind. groups favoring Gore approach $10 million in TV spending; friendly Republican groups still sitting out presidential contest, spending heavily to keep House majority

Through October 24, two weeks before election day, spending on television ads by the Bush campaign, the RNC, and groups supporting Governor Bush slightly exceeded spending on ads for Vice President Gore ($65 million to $61.6 million), and in the week ending October 24, the Bush forces spent $9.1 million on TV ads, compared to $7.2 million by the Gore forces in the nation’s top 75 media markets. Nonetheless, television viewers in media markets in battleground states (Albuquerque, Orlando, Portland (OR), Miami, Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc.) continue to see more ads for the Vice President. Though some of this advantage is due to Gore’s use of less expensive daytime TV spots, another important explanation is the Bush campaign’s heavy investment in California, a state where the Vice President has yet to spend a single dollar on television. In the week ending Oct. 24 alone, more than $1.8 million in TV ads for Gov. Bush aired in California, bringing spending on pro-Bush ads in the nation’s most populous state to $5.5 million.

Despite the overall spending advantage for Bush, viewers in some markets in key states are seeing far more ads for Gore. In the week ending October 24, viewers in Portland, OR saw 642 pro-Gore ads, compared to only 311 pro-Bush ads; in Seattle, 478 ads for Gore vs. 316 for Bush; in Philadelphia, 532 ads for Gore vs. 253 for Bush; and in Detroit, 478 ads for Gore vs. 300 for Bush. “Though these numbers describe an advertising deficit for Gov. Bush in key markets, there is a silver lining for his campaign,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Kenneth Goldstein, who worked on the study with the Brennan Center. “Conventional wisdom holds that Gore must win in Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, and probably Michigan to capture the election. So, with the exception of Florida, the advertising wars are being fought primarily on the Vice President’s home turf.”

The Vice President is competitive with Gov. Bush in the advertising air wars largely because of soft money spending by friendly interest groups. Led by $5 million in spending on ads by Planned Parenthood and $1.6 million by Handgun Control, groups supporting Gore have spent $9.3 million on TV ads compared to just $423,000 by groups supporting Bush. In the week ending October 24, independent groups supporting the Vice President spent slightly more on television ads than even the Democratic Party, by a margin of $1.49 million to $1.42 million. Every one of the 5 most active independent groups in the presidential race has purchased ads exclusively for Vice President Gore.

“Newsflash to Republican-leaning groups: there’s a presidential race going on out there, too,” said E. Joshua Rosenkranz, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “The Republican-friendly groups, like the Republican Leadership Council and the Chamber of Commerce are putting all their eggs in the congressional basket, ceding the presidential race to Democratic-leaning groups by a margin of over 20:1 and 100:1 in that one week alone. Maybe the time has come for the Republican leadership to rethink its opposition to regulating these ads.”

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 Gov. Bush’s campaign. As reported earlier this month, Citizens for Better Medicare has spent more than $7 million on ads advocating Medicare proposals similar to those advocated by Governor Bush. But because they never mention Bush or Gore, the ads are different from many run by groups on behalf of Vice President Gore, which are virtually indistinguishable from the ads run by the Gore campaign and Democratic Party. Because of this difference, ads paid for by Citizens for Better Medicare are not coded by this study 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 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 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.

According to the Brennan Center study, with only two weeks left in the campaign, the Republican and Democratic Parties had spent $67.3 million on ads, while combined spending by the Bush and Gore campaigns was $49.6 million. It now appears likely that, for the first time in history, party spending on TV ads in a presidential contest will exceed spending by the candidates. 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. In just one election cycle, party soft money spending has become the dominant force in the advertising air wars. 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 restricted by law to party-building activities.

The new trend of candidate spending taking a back seat to party and interest group soft money spending holds true in key U.S. House races, where spending on ads by Republican and Democratic party organizations and independent groups totals $32.6 million, compared to $23.9 million in combined candidate spending. The 43 House races were chosen recently by the Cook Political Report as competitive. (Political analyst Charlie Cook and the Cook Report were not otherwise involved in the Brennan Center study.)

“Candidates are playing bit parts to the leading roles of parties and interest groups,” said Rosenkranz. “This is a topsy-turvy election, where the players that are legally barred from running any advertising for candidates are buying most of the air time. And they are stampeding over the dead carcass of campaign finance laws on their way to the TV stations.”

Recent activity by independent groups in House races has heavily favored the Republicans, with the Chamber of Commerce spending almost all of the $1.25 million they have poured into these races in the most recent week studied. Citizens for Better Medicare has also opened the spending spigot late in the campaign, spending $1.8 of the almost $6 million they have spent to date between October 17 and 24.

This recent spending spree contributes to the huge group spending gap between Gov. Bush and Republican candidates in key House races. Bush has received very little support from independent groups; groups supporting Republicans have spent a mere $423,357 in support of his campaign, in contrast to the almost $8.4 million they have showered on Republican candidates in key House races, a difference of 20:1. In contrast, groups supporting Democrats have spent more money on the presidential race than into these same key House races ($9.3 million so far for the presidential contest vs. $6.3 million for key House races.)

According to Professor Goldstein, “Parties and independent groups are not guaranteed ad placements as candidates are. Therefore, our spending numbers for parties and interest groups are conservative and certainly low. Press reports and my own conversations with media buyers and station managers indicate that interest groups and parties are paying significant premiums to get their spots on the air,” Goldstein said.

These findings make the 2000 campaign the first-ever in which information describing candidates’ use of the television airwaves has been available to voters, political scientists, and campaign analysts in real time.

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 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 Amanda Cooper at (212) 998–6736.

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.

Click here to view tables.

Click here to view:

October 16, 2000 press release.

September 28, 2000 press release.

September 27, 2000 press release.

September 19, 2000 press release.


    October 19, 2000 press release.