Ruling of Super PACs felt locally

By CAITLIN COOK
TheNewsOutlet.org

Election outcomes may be unpredictable, but one thing is clear, the biggest winners this year are local TV stations.

The reason lies in a 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which allowed companies and union to fund political ads, both favorable and unfavorable. This ruling gave rise to political action committees.

The result has been a windfall for station owners, especially in swing states like Ohio.

It is not unusual to see an ad featuring Clint Eastwood urging Americans to resist another four years under President Barack Obama. This is the latest of three television ads paid for by American Crossroads, a Super PAC founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove.

Meanwhile, a Democrat-backed commercial, funded by Priorities USA, urges Americans to be wary of Gov. Mitt Romney’s history as a venture capitalist.

Leo Jennings of Rubenstein Associates of Youngstown, who sells political ads in swing state markets, said the Citizen United ruling has altered the advertising landscape forever.

“This is actually the first election cycle where both sides have embraced the loophole that was created by Citizen United,” Jennings said. “There’s a flood gate that has been open and there’s absolutely no prospect that it’s going to be closed.”

WKBN has recorded $9 million in political advertisement through Oct. 3 at its four stations. WFMJ has racked up $6.5 million through Oct. 23.

WFMJ charged American Crossroads $2,400 for a 30-second television ad airing during a Sunday night football game between the Packers and the Texans on Oct. 14. The same ad garnered $700 for 30-second slots during the Ellen show and Saturday Night Live before and after the NFL game.

An Oct. 29 USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that 78 percent of swing-state voters have viewed an ad for Obama or Romney in the past three days. Non-swing-state voters came in at 63 percent.

And there will be more ads airing as each campaign sprints to Election Day.

A Wells Fargo report, based on data from Kantar Media, places Cleveland and Columbus as No. 2 and 9, respectively, in a list of the Top 10 media markets in political spending.

The Wesleyan Media Project, a collaborative effort by Wesleyan University, Bowdoin College and Washington State University, collects and analyzes political advertising on broadcast and national media buys The project reports that more than $2.5 billion was spent on presidential political advertising in Youngstown in September. Pro-Obama ads accounted for $1.9 million and Romney ads accounted for $556,000.

The project found that 70 percent of the ads were negative. The only other Ohio media market with a larger percentage of negative ads was Columbus, which came in at 73 percent.

While TV viewers may seem to be numb from the sheer bombardment of ads, they still serve a purpose, said Becky Curnalia, assistant communications professor at Youngstown State University.

As with any product, political or not, the higher frequency of exposure the more the message will resonate with people, she said.

However, TV viewers are now armed with technological advances, such as DVRs, that make connecting with voters more difficult.

“It’s really hard to reach people right now because we have so much more control over our media use,” Curnalia said.

“They have to overload the market to reach us.”

The increased advertising has made Jennings’ job a bit harder. He said rates are way up and with saturation there is no guarantee that spots will get through.

“We knew that (air) time was going to be tight, a lot of time we advise our (non-political) clients not to even try to place time,” he said.

Right now, his biggest obstacle is finding spots for non-political ads. Federal election ads take precedent over local and state.

In his 25 years in advertising, Jennings has never seen a market like this on a state and local level.

“There may not be the volume here because this is a traditionally Democratic area – there’re not a lot of swing voters like in Columbus and outside of Cleveland, around Cincinnati,” Jennings said.

“A lot of it depends on where you are and what the issues are.”

While this year’s presidential election has highlighted the affect of Super Pacs, Jennings says to get used to it, because eventually the ads will filter to local and regional elections as well as the national elections.

To compensate, Jennings has advised clients to increase their activity on Facebook and Twitter to keep in the public’s eye at times when political ads vie for airtime with traditional advertisers.

Contributing to this report were Ashley Morris, Kara Pappas, Chris Kochera and Suzi Starheim.

TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort between the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron). 

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