Political Spending Will Reach Record in 2004, TNS Media Intelligence/CMR Says

by , Jun 17, 2004, 12:00 AM
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With the most expensive presidential election in history looming, TNS Media Intelligence/CMR predicts that 2004 will break records with an expected $1.5 billion in political ad spending.

That will soar above the two previous records, the $625 million in political ad spending for the last presidential election in 2000 and the issue-ad and midterm election frenzy that pumped $840 million into the advertising economy in 2002.

Worries about election spending as a result of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform appear to have been unwarranted, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Fredericks. President Bush and his Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry appear to be raking in the dough--Kerry setting a Democratic Party record on top of former candidate Howard Dean's previous Internet-fueled heights--and that's nothing compared to the war chest amassed by the Bush campaign for his 2004 run.

Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group unit of TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, said that the presidential election spending would come at a torrid pace. He noted that since March 3, presidential candidates have spent $200 million on campaign advertising--about the same as the hotly contested 2000 match between Bush and former Vice President Al Gore.

Spending on advertising in the presidential campaign--primarily TV but also including radio, the Internet, and print--is poised to reach $600 million, CMR predicted Wednesday. The heavy pace of spending is going to be fueled not only by the candidates themselves, but also by the interest groups whose ad spending was supposed to be curbed by campaign finance reform.

Recently, Kerry ads were run not only by the campaign itself, but by about a dozen other organizations who supported him or his goal of defeating Bush. Campaign Media Analysis Group estimated that there was $45 million in advertising by these issue groups. Steve McMahon--partner in McMahon, Squier and Associates as well as a former Dean adviser--said that this issue-based advertising threatened to overwhelm the opposition candidates--something that McMahon remembered well, particularly in Dean's ultimately failed campaign in the Iowa caucus. Dean's campaign was hit from almost all sides in the caucus, by his challengers as well as other groups on both sides.

"They were all hurting us," McMahon recalled. "You can't respond to all of them."

While the ads sponsored by the campaigns must have the candidate's voice endorsing them, it's not required for the issue-based ads that might have mixed or hidden loyalties. McMahon said these issue groups are like a virus, which mutates into something similar when confronted with challenges.

It's not only the presidential campaign that's expected to heat up. Issue-based groups are expected to spend up to $200 million for their causes, including Medicare prescription drug coverage ($70 million); tribal gaming ($40 million); telecommunications ($25 million); and tort reform ($20 million). Lesser amounts are expected to be spent by the energy industry on its advocacy spots.

Congressional elections--including the entire U.S. House of Representatives plus selected Senate races--are expected to add $275 million in spending. Gubernatorial races will kick in another $75 million, as well as $200 million in state and local spending and $150 million in local ballot initiatives.

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