Billionaires and Dark Money Are Dominating Ad Spending In The 2020 Cycle

There has already been at least $18.6 million spent on political ads since the start of 2019. Most of its funding is undisclosed.

 

By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network

 

Note: An infographic with a full listing of advertisers and their spending is available at the end of this article.

LANSING (Jan. 17, 2020) — Any Michigander spending a decent amount of time watching television since Thanksgiving has likely seen Michael Bloomberg. 

Not in the news or on the debate stage, but during a commercial break. Bloomberg has spent about $6.6 million in the last eight weeks running ads on broadcast TV and cable, according to MCFN’s review of FCC filings and data from the firm Advertising Analytics.

His campaign has aired 13 different ads more than 7,600 times in the state, and in 2020 they have represented 79% of all political advertisements on Michigan television. The volume of advertising is so high these totals will quickly become outdated.

The ads touch on numerous issues, from the economy to health care and the environment. A fair number of them attack president Donald Trump. One 60-second spot praising Bloomberg’s record on health care as New York City mayor has run nearly 1,500 times in 2020.

Contrast Bloomberg’s spending with the 2016 presidential primary. Both parties had contested elections, and by late february the leading spender was Bernie Sanders, who had run 676 ads and spent about $320,000. The entire field, Democrats and Republicans, spent a little more than $10.6 million. The 2020 primary is about seven weeks away and Bloomberg, who is spending an average of about $741,000 a week, is on pace to outspend them all alone.The candidates and issues receiving the highest spending in 2020, sized to represent the amounts received.

The other self-funded candidate in the race, billionaire Tom Steyer, is the only other candidate with significant airtime in the state. Advertising Analytics data indicates he has run ads about 3,400 times in Michigan, but in 2020 his airtime has been less than a tenth that of Bloomberg’s. Steyer made purchases with broadcast syndicates for national distribution, making his total spending in the state difficult to estimate.

Bloomberg’s ads are part of a larger national blitz. He has spent more than $200 million on television advertising nationwide. On Jan. 11, the campaign spent $826,000 on Facebook ads, which are more difficult to track due to a lack of disclosure.

Bloomberg, a candidate who has received little exposure, may be looking to make a good first impression. In a poll released this week by EPIC-MRA, just 26% of Michiganders view Bloomberg favorably, 34% view him unfavorably but 24% are undecided. Yet in a head-to-head match against President Donald Trump, he has a seven-point lead.

A super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, spent $1.3 million in Michigan running generic ads opposing Trump on broascast television, cable and radio throughout 2019.

 

Dark Money Converges on Michigan’s Congressional Seats

In Michigan’s hotly contested Congressional districts ad wars have already begun. Since the beginning of 2019, about $5 million has already been spent on television advertising for just three races.

Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat, held by Gary Peters, along with first-term representatives Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens have seen their districts inundated with ads. The linked organizations Majority Forward and House Majority Forward, Democrats’ most prominent super PACs, have spent about $500,000 on each incumbent.

While Peter’s challenger, Republican John James, out-fundraised Peters in multiple quarters last year, Majority Forward and VoteVets Action Fund, another dark money organization, have spent a combined $2.1 million running ads lauding the Senator, featuring stock footage made available by his campaign. Better Future Michigan, a 501(c)(4) and Restoration PAC, a super PAC, have spent about $340,000 attacking him.

On the other hand, more than $1 million has been spent running ads against Slotkin by the American Action Network, America First Policies, Presidential Coalition and the Republican National Committee. The RNC is the only one of those organizations which discloses its funding sources. They have more than doubled the spending of the groups supporting Slotkin.

It is essentially the same organizations at war in the 11th district held by Stevens, though in this case opposition groups have only spent about $468,000. An advertisement by the American Action Network targeted them both for “supporting the partisan impeachment.”

 

Obscure Group Lauched a $5 Million Advertising Onslaught In 2019

A super PAC called Doctor Patient Unity spent nearly $4.8 million running ads in Michigan from August 2019 through the end of the year. The ads claimed Congress was passing legislation that would institute “government rate setting” and close hospitals. It urged viewers to contact their representatives in Congress without being forthright about the issue at stake. In one ad, a patient is rushed to a hospital in an ambluance, only for the paramedics to find it has been shuttered without explanation.

It was not until The New York Times later reported two companies were the primary backers of the group, TeamHealth and Envision Healthcare, which the paper described as "private-equity-backed companies that own physician practices and staff emergency rooms around the country," and were against reform bills addressing surprise medical billing. The spending in Michigan represented close to 20% of the group's $28 million national campaign and the ads ran more than 2,000 times. The legislation ultimately failed in December, despite support from congressional leaders in both parties and the President.



 

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