By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
Note: this article has been revised from the Feb. 24 edition with new spending totals.
LANSING (Mar. 2, 2020) — Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has now outspent the entire 2016 primary field in Michigan on TV advertising, according to data from Advertising Analytics examined by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Since November 2019, Bloomberg has spent nearly $11.8 million to run a reported 50 different ads more than 22,000 times. Every 2016 presidential candidate during the primary, Democrat and Republican, spent a combined $10.6 million on TV advertising in Michigan.
No other presidential candidate comes close, aside from Tom Steyer, who has since dropped out. The other billionaire in the Democratic primary, Steyer aired ads about 1,600 times through January, according to Advertising Analytics data, but his spending totals are unavailable.
Bloomberg, a finance industry magnate, is one of the world’s richest men and is self-funding his campaign. And despite his unprecedented spending, dark money groups together have still outspent candidates on television advertising since the beginning of 2019. Priorities USA Action, the largest Democratic super PAC, recently purchased $6.4 million of airtime to run anti-Trump ads on Michigan television. They are slated to begin after the primary and run through July in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint and Traverse City.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two leading progressives in the race, began running ads in Michigan late last week. Warren has spent about $606,000 to air two different ads, while Sanders has spent nearly $312,000 to air one touting his record on civil rights and economic issues.
Warren is airing the first attack against a fellow Democrat of the Michigan primary season, deriding Bloomberg for using his fortune to inundate airwaves with advertisements. Her campaign’s other spot consists solely of a positive testimonial from former president Barack Obama, though he’s indicated he’ll not be endorsing a candidate in the primary. The commercials can be viewed here.
Joe Biden, once the strong frontrunner, has run ads just five times here. Tulsi Gabbard spent $1,000 last year for a few airings. View totals for all TV ad spending below.
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Bloomberg's Dominance Extends to Digital
It seems more candidates have turned to digital advertising, where exposure is cheaper and better targeted to specific demographics. Yet Bloomberg is similarly dominating the world’s largest social media platform, Facebook. There he has spent more than any other advertiser in Michigan, about $2.9 million over the last 90 days, according to the company’s voluntary disclosures.
The next highest spending candidate, the page for President Donald Trump, has spent a little more than 10% of that amount, about $290,000. Bernie Sanders, the current Democratic frontrunner, has spent about $110,000; Elizabeth Warren, a little more than $75,000. Biden has spent just slightly more than $30,000, less than what Pete Buttigieg spent before exiting the race. The infographic below displays every advertiser that has paid Facebook to run an ad in Michigan featuring social issues, elections or politics in the last 90 days. The size of the circles represents the amount spent, and the largest spenders with undisclosed funding have been colored black.
Yet, as in TV advertising, dark money organizations spending has outpaced the candidates. On Facebook, it is primarily in the form of ads attacking and defending Trump.
Ad spending on Facebook also represents the nationalization of previously local or statewide politics. Amy McGrath, a Democrat hoping to unseat U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, spent more money advertising in Michigan than former candidate Amy Kolubchar — and so has McConnell himself.
These are the two platforms with data available to MCFN and it is unknown whether Bloomberg may be similarly flooding other mediums. Facebook now voluntarily discloses some limited information about the political ads it runs, though it does little to verify the legitimacy of the organizations purchasing them. While Twitter in late 2019 chose to ban all ads with political messages, much information about online advertising outside of social media remains totally undisclosed, and the nature of the internet makes it nearly impossible to discern how much of a campaign's online advertising was to Michiganders even once their spending is reported.
Michigan Politics Also a Considerable Source of Spending
The next highest-spending candidate on Michigan television will not be on the ballot March 10.
U.S. Senator Gary Peters’ campaign has spent more than $1.4 million to run TV ads about 2,900 times. Still, dark money organizations have spent even more supporting him, about $2.1 million. While his likely opponent John James has not aired any ads himself, groups with undisclosed funding affiliated with him have run a fair share of attack ads against Peters, albeit fewer.
An organization in metro Detroit, Yes for the DIA, has spent more than $450,000 on commercials supporting the Detroit Institute of Arts’ millage renewal, and a group called Clinton Township Yes has bought more than $50,000 of ad time on local cable to support the reversal of an ordinance blocking recreational marijuana businesses in that community, after funding a local ballot drive to do the same. A nonprofit with murky origins has spent about $850,000 running ads in favor of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's road bonding plan.