President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are spending large sums of money on television ads to influence voters in the battleground state of Virginia. So are Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, the two candidates running for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.
But the candidates and political parties are just partly responsible for the tidal wave of ads flooding the airwaves in this big election season. Outside political and interest groups have bought $37 million worth of television advertising time in state’s top four media markets, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. About half of the money has been spent by groups that don’t have to disclose their donors to the public.
In the Roanoke-Lynchburg television market, conservative groups are dominating the airwaves. According to VPAP, 85 percent of the ad spending by outside groups has come from conservative interests, which have poured nearly $5.6 million into the regional market.
More than half of that total has come from conservative super PAC American Crossroads and a spinoff group, Crossroads GPS. Both have ties to Republican strategist Karl Rove, a key adviser to former President George W. Bush. Crossroads GPS, which does not have to disclose its donors, has committed $2.4 million to the Roanoke market and American Crossroads has added about $950,000.
The other big spender is the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which has spent more than $1 million in the region.
By contrast, liberal groups have barely made a dent in the regionn. Majority PAC, a committee working to protect a Democratic majority in the Senate, has spent $309,015 in the region. The group has run ads promoting Kaine’s record and attacking Allen’s.
Kaine, who has been critical of the influence of secret-money groups, has been the target of attack ads produced by Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity.
The torrent of spending is partly due to Virginia’s status as a key swing state in the presidential election, and the fact that the U.S. Senate race is one of the most competitive in the country. But the floodgates really were opened by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on contributions by corporations, unions and interest groups in federal elections.
Unlike the candidates, the outside groups can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions. Registered super PACs must disclose their donors. Individual expenditure groups that are registered as “social welfare” organizations do not have to disclose their donors.
Third-party groups spent only about $2.3 million in Virginia in 2008, when Obama won the White House and Democrats gained a majority of the state’s congressional seats, according to an analysis by CNN. But, after the Supreme Court ruling, independent expenditure groups played a major role in the 2010 congressional elections in Virginia, as Republicans reclaimed a majority of the state’s House of Representatives seats.
Here’s a list that VPAP compiled of the outside groups that have bought advertising time in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market:
|Crossroads GPS||Keeps donors a secret||$2,473,069|
|Americans for Prosperity||Keeps donors a secret||$1,031,021|
|American Crossroads||Discloses donors||$950,022|
|Restore Our Future||Discloses donors||$482,412|
|Majority PAC||Discloses donors||$309,015|
|US Chamber of Commerce||Keeps donors a secret||$238,040|
|American Future Fund||Keeps donors a secret||$198,081|
|60 Plus Association Inc||Keeps donors a secret||$124,644|
|American Energy Alliance||Keeps donors a secret||$91,819|
|Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)||Keeps donors a secret||$81,391|
|EarthJustice||Keeps donors a secret||$39,696|
|League of Conservation Voters||Discloses donors||$39,400|
|Priorities USA Action||Discloses donors||$22,770|
|Evangelical Environmental Network||Keeps donors a secret||$2,162|
VPAP has much more on the media buys by super PACs and other independent expenditure groups here.
– Michael Sluss