LANSING - A clear trend has emerged from the months leading up to the beginning of the traditional political season: Independent spenders are dominating the air war in Michigan's gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has spent $1.2 million for television advertising through Labor Day, and the Republican Governors Association has spent $3.2 million for ads supporting the governor and criticizing his Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer. Team Snyder has spent $4.4 million for TV ads so far.
Meanwhile, Mark Schauer has spent $823,000 for TV, while the Democratic Governors Association has spent $4.6 million for ads supporting Mr. Schauer and opposing the governor. The Michigan Nurses Association has spent $173,000 for ads supporting Schauer in northern Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula. Team Schauer's total television spending through Labor Day was $5.6 million.
At this point, Gov. Snyder's own campaign has sponsored 26.7% of the ads on his behalf. Mark Schauer's campaign has paid for 14.6% of the TV on his behalf. Overall TV spending for the gubernatorial campaign has been $10.0 million so far.
Both candidates and both governors associations have a full schedule of ads booked from now until Election Day.
The U.S. Senate, too, is dominated by independent spending, but the candidates and their respective supporters are on distinctly different trajectories.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters hadn't bought a television ad since April until he bought a flight of ads in the Grand Rapids media market beginning on August 26th. His Republican opponent, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, has been advertising since April with only two short breaks in her air campaign surrounding the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays.
Congressman Peters' TV spending has totaled $1.3 million. Ms. Land's total through Labor Day is $3.95 million.
Independent groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, spent $5 million to attack Mr. Peters early in the year, but they have been quiet since June. Freedom Partners had contracts for a statewide buy in August but canceled them.
Ending Spending, Inc. and Ending Spending Action Fund, which are associated with TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, have chipped in with $1.85 million, including a major buy in August.
Overall, independent Land supporters have spent $8 million, accounting for two-thirds of the television behind Ms. Land's campaign. Only two of the groups, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Ending Spending Action Fund, disclose the identities of their donors.
The Senate Majority PAC, a superPAC controlled by Senate Democrats, has spent $3 million for ads supporting Rep. Peters. Other major independent spenders backing Peters include AFSCME's PAC ($961,000), the superPAC Environment America Action Fund ($672,500), and A Stronger Financial Michigan ($357,000), a subsidiary of the Michigan Credit Union League. Only the credit union subsidiary and the nonprofit League of Conservation Voters, which has purchased ads in the Grand Rapids market, do not disclose donors. Overall independent spending supporting Peters has totaled $5.7 million, 85% of the air campaign.
One additional gap in transparency involves management of the public files by three broadcasters. WJBK, FOX-2 in Detroit, is withholding contracts for all "issue" ads about state candidates, which means those sponsored by the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association. WZZM, ABC-13 in Grand Rapids, is withholding ad contracts of the Republican Governors Association. WXYZ, ABC-7 in Detroit, began withholding contracts of the RGA in August.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network uses data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group to estimate the amount of buys that are withheld from the public files. All other data are collected from the public files of state broadcasters and cable systems.
"I understand that broadcasters are businesses as well as news organizations," said Rich Robinson of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "But broadcasters, as license holders of the public's airwaves, have an obligation to serve the public interest and they should not be withholding information about who is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in our state political campaigns. I sincerely hope these broadcasters who are not disclosing records of their political ad sales will reconsider their position."