Legislation-Centered Issue Ads

GI Ads Are Not Recruiting, But Legislative Government Issue Advertising

In the introduction of a recently released study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the authors noted that (government) issue ads are abundant, growing in prominence, and central to important questions about the nature of democracy and the relationships among money, speech, and political influence. Legislative issue ads (also called "pure issue ads") are advertisements directed at the public, legislators, or agencies in hope of swaying opinions on matters of policy, law, or regulation. Unlike the well-studied and debated candidate-centered issue ads, legislation-centered ads are rarely the subject of public scrutiny.

The goal in engaging in this study was to focus attention on the implications of unequal spending on issues of pubic policy importance. For the past two years, the Annenberg Public Policy Center has collected and analyzed legislation-centered issue ads from television and print media appearing in the Washington, D.C. area.

It is important to keep in mind that what is reported is the estimated value of ad space (or time) rather than "spending". Organizations rarely make public their issue advocacy spending. Thus, the numbers presented are estimates of the value of the airtime and column inches.

Some of the findings included in the report are summarized in the Executive Summary:

The study included the examination of more than 5,000 print and television ads that appeared in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in 2001 and 2002 and focused on issues before the president, Congress, a regulatory agency, or that were a matter of public policy debate.

- Over $105 million was spent on print and television issue advertising inside the beltway during the 107th Congress. These ads were sponsored by over 670 different organizations and coalitions.

- Over half of the dollars spent came from the 20 largest spenders.

- Among organizations that spent over $1 million on issue advocacy, business interests outspent other interests.

- About 72% of organizations represented business interests. Spending on print advertising was much less concentrated than it was for television. The top 10 spenders on television ads accounted for 77% of the television total while the top 10 organizations spending on print ads accounted for 31% of the print total.

- The organizations that sponsored print advertising were for the most part different from the ones that sponsored ads on television.

- Airtime for television legislative advertising in the Washington area in 2001 and 2002 cost over $41 million and was sponsored by 70 different organizations.

- Spending for over 5,000 print ads purchased by over 600 organizations in Washington totaled an estimated $64 million.

- The top 25 lobbies identified by Fortune magazine as having the most influence were not necessarily the highest advertising spenders. Only eight of those listed in the Fortune top 25 ranked in the list of top 100 spenders.

- The four broad issues of energy and environment, health care, economy and business, and telecommunications, accounted for three out of every five dollars (61%) spent on inside-the-beltway legislative issue advertising.

- About $15.4 million was estimated to have been spent to advertise issues related to a National Energy Policy, and that roughly 94% (about $14.5 million) of this spending was sponsored by energy/ business interests, with environmental interests spending the remaining 6%.

- Three subtopics accounted for 77% of the health care advertising. They were: prescription drug benefits (42%), increased federal funding for hospitals and other providers (19%), and expanding coverage for the uninsured (17%).

- Of the close to $20 million spent on health care advertising, almost three-fifths (59%) of spending was from two types of groups that profit from health care. Industry groups (such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance companies, and business associations) spent the most, close to $7 million (about 36% of the total health care spending). They were followed by health care providers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors ($4.7 million or 24%). Consumer groups, such as the AARP (formerly American Association Retired Persons) came in third, with about $3 million in spending (16%).

- Excluding the advertising that did not promote any specific plan for helping people afford prescription drugs, 75% of spending went to support plans outside of Medicare and 25% went to promote a prescription drug plan within Medicare.

- Overall spending was much more concentrated among a few issues in the television ads. Spending on the top five issues in television ads accounted for 90% of broadcast/cable spending. Spending on the top five issues among print advertisements accounted for 71% of the ad spending.

- Of the 12 straightforward legislative issues looked at, all but two had greater spending on the prevailing side.

Legislative Top-Issue Advertising 2001-2002 (% total spending)

  • Environment/Energy 20%
  • Health Care 19%
  • Economy/Business 11%
  • Telcom/Internet 11%
  • Education 7%
  • Government Spending 7%
  • Foreign Affairs/Defense 7%
  • Other 18%

You can find out more here.

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