LANSING – A five-party, multi-million-dollar Michigan television ad campaign orchestrated by Mentzer Media Services illustrates the major role of nonprofit advocacy corporations in contemporary presidential politics.
Four nonprofits organized as 501(c)(4) corporations – Americans for Prosperity, American Future Fund, American Energy Alliance and the 60 Plus Association – have spent $3.4 million so far this year in a steady barrage of campaign-style ads criticizing the Obama administration for its energy and health care policies. Because of their timing, the ads do not have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the sponsoring nonprofit corporations are not required to disclose their donors.
The SuperPAC Restore Our Future, which Mitt Romney has referred to as, “my SuperPAC,” is spending an additional $589,000 on TV in Michigan this month, extolling Romney’s virtues as a caring corporate executive. As a SuperPAC, Restore Our Future will report its donors and its spending to the FEC.
The data on the advertising were compiled by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network from the public political files of Michigan broadcasters and cable systems. All figures are gross sales.
Americans for Prosperity began the Mentzer advertising campaign in January, spending $670,000 and stopping its ads just before the 30-day reporting window for the Michigan presidential primary began. Advertisements that feature the name or image of a candidate and run within 30 days prior to a primary election must be reported to the FEC as electioneering communications.
The day after the Michigan presidential primary, American Future Fund began a two-week $706,000 ad blitz. That was followed by two weeks of ads sponsored by 60 Plus Association for $802,000; then two weeks of ads sponsored by American Energy Alliance for $488,000. After a two-week hiatus in April, Americans for Prosperity began a new two-week flight of ads that was overlapped first by American Future Fund, then by Restore Our Future.
As data were being collected by MCFN on May 11th, American Future Fund and Americans for Prosperity were placing new ad buys. Spending for those ads is not included in this report.
All the fore-mentioned advertising was created by Mentzer Media Services. In addition, Mentzer was the agency for Restore Our Future’s $2.2 million Michigan TV ad blitz in the weeks immediately preceding the Michigan presidential primary.
“This Mentzer-orchestrated campaign is exploiting the inadequacy of federal campaign disclosure rules,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “We are in the midst of the endless presidential campaign, but these corporations’ spending doesn’t have to be reported because year-long campaigns were not contemplated when the rules for reporting electioneering communications were developed.
“An additional benefit to the corporations is that they retain their 501(c)(4) tax status, and the right to provide anonymity to their donors, because their spring and summer advertising is not acknowledged to be electioneering,” Robinson said. “Since they are allowed to deny that their advertising is electioneering, they can say that their main purpose as organizations is not electioneering.”
Organizations whose main purpose is electioneering are classified as 527 committees. 527 committees must disclose their spending and their donors.
MCFN will report periodically throughout 2012 on campaign advertising that is not disclosed to the FEC.
C4G MIA in 6th CD; Chambers, Chemistry Council support Upton
Earlier this year the anti-tax Club for Growth announced that it would challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Fred Upton in his campaign for reelection in Michigan’s redesigned 6th Congressional District. So far that challenge hasn’t amounted to much: A modest $6,000 cable TV ad buy.
The Club’s ads were answered initially by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The state and national Chambers spent $128,000 for television spots touting Upton’s service.
The U.S. Chamber and the American Chemistry Council are in the midst of a new three-week TV ad campaign praising Upton. The Chemistry Council is spending $240,000 and the U.S. Chamber is spending $118,000 in the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo media market.
While Club for Growth has a demonstrated capacity to mobilize large sums of money in a hurry, the business establishment has signaled that it will not surrender the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to the radical fringe of the Republican Party for a low cost.
DIBC ad campaign totals $1.6 million in 2012
The Detroit International Bridge Company resumed its advertising against a new public-private bridge between Detroit and Windsor in March, after a pause that avoided the escalation in ad rates at the time of the February presidential primary.
From Christmas until early February, the DIBC spent $728,000 for its ads. From late March through May 7th, DIBC spent $877,000, bringing its 2012 total to $1.6 million.
DIBC spent more than $6 million for TV ads in 2011 and succeeded in killing the enabling legislation for a new bridge in the Senate Economic Development Committee.