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The pricetag for U.S. presidential election advertising: six billion dollars and counting

posted 29 Oct 2012, 13:48 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 29 Oct 2012, 13:49 ]

The money spent by the U.S. presidential candidates and the like-minded political action committees on television advertising exceeds six billion dollars -- a figure greater than the gross domestic national product of 40 countries.

WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (OCTOBER 24, 2012) (REUTERS) -  When the 2012 presidential election campaign between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is recounted by historians years from now, chances are it will be remembered as much for the gluttony of its political advertising as it will be remembered for any of the campaign slogans of the candidates.

Billions of dollars have been been spent in advertising during the U.S. presidential election, as well as in races for the U.S. Congress and for statewide offices -- a blanketing of the television and radio airwaves in a glut of rhetorical half-truths that has been nearly uniform in its negativity.

The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks and analyzes all broadcast advertisements aired by or on behalf of federal and state candidates, said in a recent study released that more than 915,000 presidential ads have been aired on television since the start of the general election cycle -- a 44.5 percent increase from the 2008 president campaign.

The group projects the cost in advertising purchases will exceed six billion dollars -- a figure greater the gross domestic national product of 40 nations.

The frenzy of spending in political advertising is prompted by the emergence of well-funded Political Action Committees, or Super PACs.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case that corporations have the same right to political speech as individuals. The case, as well as some similar rulings, removed restrictions on corporate money in politics.

Following the Citizens United ruling, presidential campaigns were still held to strict reporting requirements on their fundraising -- but corporations and independent political action committees which support those candidates, or which advocated for particular policies, were unleashed to spend hundreds of millions, presumably with the expectation that their investment will be rewarded when their candidate sits in the Oval Office.

The only restriction placed by the court on the Super PACs is that these outside groups, while spending a fortune in support of a candidate, may not directly coordinate their message with the official candidate campaigns.

Indeed, because the Super PACs are free from the burden of fiscal reporting to the government, their spending can only be estimated. The nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen believes the estimate of six billion dollars is low.

"I would expect about almost 8 billion to be spent in federal elections, congressional and presidential combined in 2012, which is a dramatic increase over the last presidential election in 2008 when we had about 5.3 billion spent. You know, it's hard to tell actually because we've never really been in this type of wild west before. So, we don't really know what the final numbers are going to be" said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.

The advertisements are heavily concentrated in Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and the other hotly contested states that hold the key to victory to winning the White House. Voters in those battleground states say the ubiquity of campaign commercials on the airwaves has become an annoyance.

"It gets to the point where that's all I pretty much see sometimes," said Elizabeth Perry, a resident of Virginia. "I have gotten to the point where I don't really pay attention to them. It's kind of an overkill."

The presidential campaigns and the Super PACs no longer limit their advertising to the broadcast networks. They produce targeted advertisements for social media websites and other outlets, as well. It is estimated that, all together, a new advertisement is produced daily -- which is a pot of gold for the production companies churning them out.

"That's probably a good eighty percent of their business," said Leif Larson, a media consultant for the election strategy firm DMI Direct.

One of the criticisms of the relentless political advertising is the negative tone of the ads. Larson said the campaigns are at the point where the ads no longer are achieving their intended effect: turning off voters instead of persuading them.

"I think voters may have reached a point with the saturation of so much on TV and so much mail that they are getting in their mailboxes that there may be a backlash against Super PACs," Larson said.

Public Citizen and like-minded consumer advocacy groups hope that the negative backlash will lead to new laws and restrictions on campaign spending by mega-donors such as Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who spent 47 million dollars on Republican causes.

"What we're seeing now is someone like (Sheldon) Adelson promising to spend a 100 million dollars on campaigns. You know, us average Americans, no matter how many of us you put together, we could never amass 100 million dollars, and that's just one person we're trying to fight against. I mean, I'm rooting for the internet and technology to try--, helping Americans have a voice, but right now we are getting completely and totally drowned out," Craig Holman of Public Citizen said.

Groups like the conservative leaning Club for Growth, who run a Super PAC, disagree with that assessment. They say the new rules which followed the Citizens United decision benefit the average American voter by allowing them to keep pace with wealthy donors.

"Most Super-PACs are a combination of some large donors but thousands of smaller donors, people who care just as much about elections, care just as much about the future of our country, and our able to participate in a more effective way than they were previously," Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said.

Chocola believes that the increase in money spent during the campaign benefits the citizens living in a democracy.

"You know we spend a lot more on trying to convince people to buy soap in this country than we do on trying to convince people who should lead our country in the future and get us on a path to prosperity," he said.


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