Money & Politics

This Week in Political Money: Presidential Ad Spending Down; Big Bucks to State Judicial Races

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This Week in Political Money: Presidential Ad Spending's Down

A Nevada voter looks at a Donald Trump electronic billboard truck. Trump has lagged Hillary Clinton in airing TV ads. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

We’ll be posting this roundup each week leading up to Election Day. Share your thoughts about these must-read stories and always feel free to suggest your own in the comments section.

It may surprise you to learn that advertising in the presidential race is down this year. In fact, the number of ads aired in the 2016 general election is less than half the number aired in 2012, according to a new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. The analysis also found the ads were more positive than in past elections.

One might hope this shows politicians are increasingly moving away from the negative advertising tactics political consultants push but voters may not much heed. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, much of the decline this year can be attributed to Donald Trump’s anomalous candidacy. The Trump campaign struggled to get its fundraising operation up and running, and didn’t release its first general election TV ad until August. The Wesleyan Media Project analysis found that Clinton has out-aired Trump 3 to 1.

“Going forward, there’s going to be some unpleasant conversations with the compliance staff about these issues.”

Great America PAC treasurer Dan Backer to the Center for Public Integrity. The PAC accidentally published donors’ credit card information. In the past, the PAC published donors’ contact info.

Figures for presidential and congressional races from the Center for Responsive Politics; figures for state races from the National Institute of Money in State Politics. All figures as of Oct. 21.

This week, we looked at who is giving to candidates for state Supreme Court races. Many states elect their judges, and some even allow judges to campaign with a partisan affiliation. Not all states allow donations, however. Of those that do, Wisconsin saw the most money — and has in fact already held its general election for its high court on April 5. Incumbent Rebecca Bradley, a conservative, defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg, a liberal.

But this map below does not show the full picture. Even when donors do not give directly to justices, they can run advertisements championing them. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice has been tracking this outside spending and estimates that Wisconsin saw $3,207,070 of it and that West Virginia, another top state for donations, saw $1,724,700.

Data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

$18 million

Thats the amount spent on “independent expenditures” — mostly advertising, paid for by groups claiming to not be affiliated with candidates’ campaigns — in Nevada’s US Senate election so far this month, according to our analysis of recent Federal Election Commission disclosures. That Senate race has gotten the most October attention nationwide from these super PACs and dark money groups, with donors — particularly liberal ones — seeking to sway the outcome of a contest to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. The Republican nominee is Joe Heck, a three-term member of the US House; his Democratic opponent is Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada’s former attorney general. Among the outside groups spending big in this race are Planned Parenthood Votes, with $2.5 million this month and the League of Conservation Voters, with $1.3 million this month. Both support Masto. VoteVets, a veterans group that tends to support Democrats, and Women Vote!, an Emily’s List PAC, each have also spent $1 million for Masto in October. The biggest spender on Heck’s behalf is the Chamber of Commerce, which so far has logged roughly $900,000 in independent expenditures with the FEC this month.

Richard L. Sullivan and Ankit N. Desai

These two lobbyists topped Hillary Clinton’s list of bundlers — people who solicit and then collect contributions to a candidate from a group of donors — over the last three months. Bringing in $1.5 million in donations each for Clinton, Sullivan and Desai lap the field — the third-largest bundler brought in half that amount. Desai, in recent years, has lobbied exclusively for Cheniere Energy, a natural-gas exporting company that has spent millions to try and influence members of Congress on issues related to liquified natural gas, a method of shipping the products of America’s fracking boom to the rest of the world. Richard L. Sullivan, a lobbyist with the firm Capitol Counsel LLC, has sought to influence politicians on behalf of numerous groups, including real estate interests and Swift Transportation Company (formerly the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks), a group that enlists state troopers to do the bidding of the railroad industry — smaller trucks means safer highways, but also more freight moved by rail.

The Clinton campaign is not neglecting donors and voters abroad. Campaign chair John Podesta is in London Friday hosting a fundraiser with former undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman. Of course, donors to these events abroad are limited to American citizens.

John Light


John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.