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Michigan's races for governor, U.S. senate spending big on TV ads

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A new report shows outside money is flowing into Michigan’s U.S. Senate and governor’s races.

As of Sept. 1, nearly $30 million has been spent on TV ads on Michigan’s race for governor and U.S. Senate.

Rich Robinson, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, poured through TV station public files to get the numbers.

He says about three quarters of the money has come from outside groups.     

A lot of that outside money has been ending up in Michigan’s U.S. Senate race.

Robinson says Republican senate candidate Terri Lynn Land and her backers have spent nearly $12 million on TV ads in Michigan. A third of that money has come from the Land campaign and the candidate herself. Slightly more has come from groups with ties of the Koch brothers, billionaire businessmen who support conservative political causes.

Robinson says Democrat Gary Peters and his supporters have spent almost $7 million dollars on TV ads.  The Peters campaign has paid for only a small fraction (about 18%) of the TV time. Most of the money to support Peters has come from national Democratic Party groups and unions.  

“Terri Land has bought almost – or she and her supporters have spent almost twice as much on television as Peters has,” notes Robinson, “and still find the campaign trailing in the polls.”

Polls taken in August showed Peters holding a slim lead over Land, but within the margin of error. 

Republican incumbent Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer are neck-and-neck in the polls in the race for governor.

And they are also running very close in the amount of money being spent on TV ads.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s Rich Robinson says the Snyder campaign and his supporters have spent nearly $4.3 million on television ads through Sept. 1.

Mark Schauer’s campaign and his backers have spent about $5.6 million.

“In both cases, the candidates are paying a fraction of the television advertising cost,” says Robinson. “The greater share is being picked up by the national governors’ associations.”

Robinson says the Republican Governors Association has pumped nearly $3.2 million dollars into the TV campaign in Michigan to support Rick Snyder. Mark Schauer is getting an even bigger boost from the Democratic Governors Association.  The DGA has spent $4.6 million dollars to bolster Schauer’s bid for governor.

Robinson expects the next two months will see the campaigns spend a lot more on TV.

“The fact that all the major party groups, associations, and candidates are booked weekly for the rest of the campaign is an indication that all around people are expecting it to remain competitive to the end,” says Robinson.

In the end, the big winners from this year’s political airwaves battle are the people who own the TV outlets showing the ads.

“The one thing we can say for sure is it’s a good season for the broadcasters and the cable systems because the market is heating up and they’re going to make some money on all of this,” says Robinson.

But just how much money is unclear. 

Michigan TV stations list their buyers’ contracts in their public files, which are accessible through the Federal Communications Commission.

But Robinson says three TV stations –WXYZ and WJBK in Detroit, and WZZM in Grand Rapids– are withholding some contracts involving state issue ads about state candidates. 

Robinson says he finds that a troubling development.

“I understand that broadcasters are businesses,” says Robinson. “But they are also news outlets. I think they have a responsibility to serve the public interest by letting us know who’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in our political campaigns.” 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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