That’s because there’s a disclosure gap for issue ads—the ubiquitous messages that typically end with a plea along the lines of “Call Senator Smith and tell him to stop raising taxes” or some other message. Broadcast ads of this type—many of which are run by 501(c) organizations that don’t disclose their donors—become reportable electioneering communications only when they air close to an election and are targeted to the voters who are about to go to the polls. Otherwise, though, they aren’t reported at all beyond vague references in tax forms filed months or years after the election.
The only way to know what’s happening is to track the ads themselves, either by examining the public files at individual TV stations or by purchasing tracking data that estimates the cost of ads based on when and where they appear
So, Kelley took it upon himself to visit Dayton’s four local TV stations and peruse their public inspection files (where the stations are required by law to keep paper records of political ad buys), as CJR did earlier this year. (This is information that will eventually be made available online, thanks to a recent Federal Communication Commission ruling.)
Among Kelley’s findings: $244,235 spent on 493 ads between May 22 and June 18 by Crossroads GPS, “the conservative group tied to Republican strategist Karl Rove, which supports Mitt Romney and Mandel.”
While Kelley’s focus was on where all this money is going or being spent, he should have noted somewhere that we also don’t know from where much of this money comes—that this is largely “dark money,” as 501(c)’s like Crossroads GPS and 60-Plus (two Kelley mentions) are not required to disclose their donors.
Kelley does put into perspective, with quotes from John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University, the sheer craziness of all of this money, and whether or not it might influence voters:
But Sides said timing is key, and other than name recognition, groups spending millions of dollars months in advance of the election, may not get the results they desire.
“There is some evidence that within a week or two, the effects of a campaign ad binge decay and voters forget,” he said. “I wonder whether a lot of this early money is essentially being wasted. I’m not sure that there’s as much bang for the buck.”
A small nit: the Daily News should have included outbound links in Kelley’s piece—like, for his references to Politifact.com, FactCheck.org (both useful resources for readers) and to this recent Roll Call article.
Finally, The Columbus Dispatch’s Joe Hallett on Sunday drew on campaign finance reports, in part, to take on an “oft-made” claim by Republican Josh Mandel that droves of Democrats, including “union leaders,” have offered their support for his Senate campaign against Democrat Sherrod Brown. (Mandel, as I’ve written about before, is no stranger to—and, apparently, unfazed by—PolitiFact’s “Pants on Fire” rating).
“The issue of Democratic support has come to the fore,” wrote Hallett, “because Mandel unfailingly brags about it in speeches and interviews.” And yet:
A Dispatch analysis of campaign-finance records found no union contributions to Mandel and, so far, he has received no union endorsements. Brown’s campaign has received at least $332,500 from labor unions since he was elected in 2007 and he has received money from or been endorsed by most of the state’s unions.
And, of the “four registered Democrats” the Mandel campaign offered the Dispatch as “evidence” of Democratic backing, Hallett reported that “one of them is an independent who says she has supported candidates from both parties.”
Adding a dash of salt to that wound, Hallett reported that Brown’s fifth largest business contributor was a $54,425 donation from the Cleveland real estate firm Forest City Enterprises, owned by the Ratner family. Mandel’s wife is a granddaughter of one of the Ratners who started Forest City, but family ties apparently are overrated, as noted by Hallett. Indeed, 15 Ratners have donated to Brown so far this campaign cycle and just two have donated to Mandel.