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Democrats Are “Soft Money” Kings In House And Senate Races

Brennan Center Study Finds that Missouri, Wash., Mich., Penn., and Ken. Seeing Most Political Ads in the Nation

October 20, 2004

For Immediate Release
October 19, 2000

Contact Information
Steve Rabinowitz, 202 547–3577
Scott Schell, 212 998–6318
Ken Goldstein, University of Wisconsin Madison,
608 263–2390

Democrats are “Soft Money” Kings in House and Senate Races
Republican Party Outspent 2–1 by Democratic Party in Battleground Districts and States

Brennan Center Study Finds that Missouri, Wash., Mich., Penn., and Ken. Seeing Most Political Ads in the Nation

In the nation’s most hotly contested races for U.S. House and Senate seats, the Democratic Party has spent $16.7 million on television ads through October 10, compared to only $7.6 million in spending by the Republican Party an advantage of more than 2–1 for the Democrats. Democratic Party organizations held an advantage of $11.1 million to $5.9 million in spending on ads in Senate races in four battleground states Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Virginia and an even more lopsided advantage in 41 hotly contested House races, where the Democrats outspent their Republican Party organizational counterparts $5.6 million to $1.7 million.

Despite the Democratic soft money edge, Republican congressional candidates in the four battleground states and 41 tossup districts held a small overall advantage in spending on television ads since June 1, thanks to $28.1 million spent on ads by Republican House and Senate candidates compared to $18.0 million by their Democratic opponents. With money spent on ads by independent groups factored in, total spending on ads for candidates in these contested races is virtually even: $30.4 million for the Republican Senate candidates in Michigan, Missouri, New York and Virginia, versus $26.0 million for the Democratic Senate candidates in those states; and $15.5 million for the Republican House candidates in the 41 tossup districts, versus $15.2 million for the Democratic House candidates in those districts.

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.

The Brennan Center study underscores the intensity of the battle for control of the House of Representatives. Through October 10, independent groups have spent $8.8 million on ads supporting Republican candidates in the 41 contested House races, while spending less than $300,000 nationally over the same period in support of Republican presidential nominee, George W. Bush. The Democratic push for control of the House is reflected in $5.6 million in spending on ads through October 10 by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 41 tossup races, compared to $1.7 million by the Republican Party.

“The Democrats are plainly winning the soft money spending race by a longshot,” noted Brennan Center President E. Joshua Rosenkranz. “But we ain’t seen nothing yet. Both parties are brimming with soft money, and just waiting for the right moment to release the tidal wave, regardless of the rules.”

“What stands out here is the strength of the Democratic Party,” said University of Wisconsin Madison Professor Kenneth Goldstein. “The Democratic spending we?re seeing is unprecedented on two counts. First, the congressional “out” party is spending more than the party in control of the Congress. And second, traditionally, the Democrats find themselves routinely outspent by their Republican counterparts.”

The 41 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.) The four featured Senate races are in states where both party nominees were established early in the election cycle.

Television viewers in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri have seen the greatest number of political ads from June 1 through October 10, with Seattle, Detroit, Spokane, and Grand Rapids and Flint, Michigan rounding out the top 7 markets ranked by saturation of political ads. Each of these markets has experienced the convergence of close Senate and House races, in addition to being in a state that is a hotly contested electoral college prize in the presidential battle. In St. Louis, which has also been experiencing a tough gubernatorial campaign, 18,755 ads appeared on local broadcast TV since June 1. Governor Mel Carnahan’s death on Monday brought a tragic end to a Senate race there that was also one of the most hotly contested in the nation. Since his death, nearly all political campaigns in the state have suspended their television advertising.

Meanwhile, San Antonio and Austin, both in George W. Bush?s Texas, have each seen but 13 political ads on all of local broadcast television since summer.

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 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.

  • Tables 1 and 2: Key House and Senate Races Comparison of Spending on Ads. For comparisons of aggregate spending on ads, measurements are made in dollars spent on ads.

  • Table 3: Top 20 Markets for Political Advertising in All Races by All Advertisers. In order to make meaningful comparisons of intensity of advertising across different media markets (with different costs for ad buys), the figures provided in this table measure number of ads aired in each market. “All races” means that the figures cover every federal and state political contest in which a television ad was aired in the particular market. “All advertisers” indicates that the figures include ads sponsored by candidates, parties, and independent groups.
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