Monday, July 16, 2012

Montana Senate Race: Fundraising and Outside Spending

I'm back from a trip to Indiana and the great Midwest. While away, the Montana Senate race did not wait for me. Indeed, a lot happened--including new ads, the release of 2nd Quarter Fundraising numbers, and much, much more.

A quick update for now. Last quarter, Congressman Rehberg matched Senator Tester's fundraising totals. This quarter, Senator Tester nearly doubled Congressman Rehberg's haul: $1.9 million versus $1.1 million. Senator Tester won the quarter, but both candidates continue to rack up impressive sums of money. For those of you keeping track at home, here is a quick graph of fundraising to date:

Fundraising in Montana's 2012 Senate Race by Quarter

Data obtained from candidate press releases and the Federal Election Commission.

What is perhaps more interesting is the fact that both Senator Tester and Congressman Rehberg, despite potentially breaking fundraising records here in Montana, will likely get outspent on television by outside interest groups. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled across the state to review the political files at Montana's television stations to try and figure out how much money is being spent on this race (and thanks very much to the staffs at those stations--your courtesy and helpfulness were just wonderful). Guess what? My conservative estimate is that 68% of the money spent on broadcast television advertisements is by interest groups. In other words, of the $6.8 million spent on television broadcast ads, more than $4.6 million was NOT spent by the parties OR the candidates running for the seat.

This is a CONSERVATIVE estimate and only counts money spent between March 2011 and mid-June 2012. Some spending is missed, and because there is some variation based on how each station keeps its records, I had to fill in some gaps with estimates. It also does not include money spent on cable advertisements, internet advertisements, grassroots organization, radio, mail, or phone calls. It only represents advertisements on broadcast television stations in Butte, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Billings, Kalispell, and Missoula.Because there's been so much outside money, the tone of the campaign has been quite negative. The literature and campaign tracking projects like CMAG, the Wisconsin Advertising Project, and the Wesleyan Media Project all show that outside groups almost universally air negative ads when they spend money. The effect of Supreme Court decisions Citizens United and Wisconsin Right to Life have been crystal clear in Montana.

Montana, we ain't seen nothing yet. The fall will bring more ads, more spending, and more attempts to influence our choices at the ballot box. Get ready for a fun ride.