Hotdish Politics: Outside groups keep the ad cash flowing

  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 3:53 PM
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Rep. John Kline

Photo: Wallace, Tom, Dml - Tom Wallace - Star Tribune Star Tribune

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WASHINGTON - From Monday until Election Day, U.S. Rep. John Kline's campaign ads will air at least 981 times on Twin Cities-area television stations.

But the Republican congressman won't be the biggest spender on federal-campaign ads in the state's largest television market.

At most, he will end up fourth, behind the campaign committees of the U.S. House Democrats and the U.S. House Republicans, and Americans for Prosperity, a super political action committee founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

All told, groups focused on the House, Senate and presidential races have spent or reserved more than $8 million in ad time in the metro area -- and only a third of the money is coming directly from the candidates.

According to a Star Tribune analysis, outside political action committees supporting Minnesota's congressional hopefuls and the national campaign arms for House Democrats and Republicans are spending nearly twice as much money on TV ads as the candidates themselves are.

Congressional candidates spent a combined $2.8 million in the Twin Cities market through the end of September, according to a review of spending on TV ads. During the same period, the tally for super PACs and the political parties was $5.3 million, according to data that TV stations must file with the Federal Communications Commission.

In Minnesota, outside organizations have yet to supplant the traditional party fundraising groups that have dominated politics for decades, but their influence is growing.

Much of the money will be spent targeting voters in three contests -- the congressional races in the Second, Sixth and Eighth districts. In the Second, Kline faces Democrat Mike Obermueller. The challenger so far has been personally outspent by Kline but expects support from super PACs and the campaign arm of House Democrats in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of ads.

In the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Kurt Bills, less than $150,000 in ad time has been reserved, all by Klobuchar.

In the Third, Fourth and Fifth Congressional District races, a total of less than $25,000 has been spent on network TV ads thus far.

Tracking spending for the First and Eighth districts is more difficult because both lie outside large television markets. Only television stations in the top 50 markets are required to file political advertising buys online.

While the outside groups provide a barrage of cash, they also pose a challenge: By law, candidates are prohibited from coordinating with them. That disconnect has been reflected in the negative tone of ads.

WCCO, the Twin Cities CBS affiliate, yanked an anti-Chip Cravaack ad this month after the Eighth District congressman complained that the spot was inaccurate and misleading.

An ad from the National Republican Trust PAC intended to aid Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann may have backfired. The ad criticized her opponent, Democratic businessman Jim Graves, but so riled Bachmann's critics that they raised $8,000 for Graves' campaign in response.

Despite the occasional glitch, however, the money and ads keep rolling.

The anti-Cravaack ad continued to run on three other stations, and the National Republican Trust will run ads on local TV through the end of next week.

  • The week ahead

    At 7 p.m. Thursday, a debate on the state's voter ID amendment will be held at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Sponsored by Debate Minnesota, it will feature Minnesota Majority's Dan McGrath and Our Voice, Our Vote's Doran Schrantz (of ISAIAH).

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