By David Skolnick
The election isn’t until Nov. 6, but for those watching the Mahoning Valley’s network television affiliates, it might seem as if it’s just a few days away.
Political campaigns and organizations are spending about $4.6 million to air about 6,500 political commercials on local stations. Almost 75 percent of the local political ad money is going to two stations: $1.84 million at 21 WFMJ-TV, the local NBC affiliate, and $1.7 million at WKBN, the local CBS affiliate.
Political campaigns and organizations are paying about $700,000 to WYTV, the local ABC affiliate, about $330,000 to WYFX, the local Fox affiliate. WBCB, the local CW affiliate, has received $8,095, and MyYTV, a broadcast syndication station and Fox sister company, has received $7,610.
Local TV affiliate officials say this year’s political ad buys are well ahead of the 2008 election year when Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain in the general election.
“My expectation is [the] consistent volume that we’ve seen the past two months [will continue] until mid-August, September, [when] volume will pick up dramatically as the election nears,” said Jack Grdic, general manager of WFMJ and WBCB. “Both party conventions and any perceived momentum will determine the pacing as well.”
WFMJ made about $4.6 million from political commercials in 2008 and $3.6 million in 2004, he said.
WKBN, WYTV and WYFX combined made about $6 million from political ads in 2008 and about that amount in 2004, said Kathy Sarna, a sales representative who handles political ads for the affiliates. The three stations have made almost half of that amount already.
This election season is “much busier than 2008,” she said. “2008 didn’t start until September.”
Sarna added that she expects “this to continue until the election.”
At the top of the list, by far, in money spent on the local network TV affiliates is President Barack Obama’s campaign. The campaign has already spent $1,745,155 for commercials through July 30, and is expected to make several more air-time buys.
During the president’s July 6 speech at Poland’s Dobbins Elementary School, Obama twice talked about negative TV ads.
“You guys are getting bombarded with all kinds of nonsense on TV,” he said.
The six leading special-interest groups/“super” political action committees money paid to local networks for commercials have spent a combined $1,918,660 on ads critical of Obama and fellow Democrat, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, according to information provided to The Vindicator by the local affiliates.
The six are: Crossroads GPS, $1,094,600; Restore Our Future, $228,080; Americans for Prosperity, $214,905; Let Freedom Ring, $138,935; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $129,760; and American Commitment, $112,380.
Special-interest groups and super PACs can spend and raise unlimited amounts of money — unlike candidate campaigns, which have limits on how much they can raise from individuals and organizations — as long as they don’t coordinate their efforts with a campaign. They also don’t have to disclose their donors.
“I’m amazed that for a small place with a population decline that we are seeing so much money being spent” on network TV affiliates, said Paul Sracic, chairman of Youngstown State University’s political science department.
While campaigns also use other media options, network affiliates are still important to politics, he said.
But is it worth the expense to advertise for the November election this early?
“A lot of it is money being wasted,” Sracic said. “But it shows Ohio is the center of the universe. We’ll have nearly four more months of negative ads.”
The presidential campaigns “probably know it’s way too early to spend money” on TV, Sracic said. But they are doing it, in part, to excite their core supporters, who are then willing to work hard for the campaigns, he said.
Ohio is home to one the nation’s most expensive U.S. Senate races with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, being challenged by state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican.
Special-interest groups have spent about $10.6 million against Brown statewide, according to his campaign and the Ohio Democratic Party. That is the most money spent against any senator in the country, the campaign and party say.
But the Valley has seen little of it.
Neither campaign has spent any money on Valley TV affiliates.
The Brown campaign identified eight groups that are spending money against the incumbent. Only four have been on Valley network affiliates. Three of them have spent about $300,000 on local affiliates. The fourth, Crossroads GPS, has spent $1,094,600, but have commercials critical of Brown and Obama so it isn’t known how much that group has spent specifically on the Senate race.
Special-interest groups are “Mandel’s only lifeline,” and are airing “false ads to boost [Mandel’s] campaign since they know he will do their bidding in Washington,” said Sadie Weiner, a Brown campaign spokeswoman.
PolitiFact Ohio and FactCheck, two organizations that examine TV ads and political speeches for accuracy, have determined that claims in a number of anti-Brown commercials are false.
When asked about outside spending, Travis Considine, Mandel’s campaign communications director, said, “Whether Ohio voters learn about 38-year politician Sherrod Brown’s failed record from our campaign or elsewhere, they have a right to know what Sherrod Brown is hiding from.”
The 6th Congressional District race between U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, the Republican incumbent, and Democrat Charlie Wilson, who lost his seat in 2010, is one of the most competitive House races in the state. The district includes all of Columbiana County and a portion of southern Mahoning County.
Johnson’s campaign has spent $9,390 locally while Wilson has spent nothing. However, Wilson has reserved $155,110 worth of commercials to air between Sept. 18 and Nov. 5.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Wilson, has a $328,410 reserve for commercials to air between Oct. 9 and Nov. 6, Election Day, for this race. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports Johnson, has a $384,000 reserve for commercials to run between Sept. 7 and Oct. 18.
Those reserve times can be increased or reduced.