A VTDigger analysis shows that Republicans have outspent Democrats almost tenfold on television ads this election season, with Republicans spending almost $695,000 on airtime compared to Democrats’ $71,500 worth of TV ads so far.
All five Republican statewide candidates have either bought airtime themselves or had ads run on their behalf this general election. As of publication, the only Democrats with TV ads post-primary are Beth Pearce and Doug Hoffer, with two media buys each, according to official filings.
Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaign will buy one TV ad on Tuesday, according to campaign manager Alex MacLean, to air later this week. Gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock, who has run several ads already, wouldn’t comment on his opponent’s inactivity thus far on the airwaves, saying: “I can’t read minds or tea leaves. I can’t speculate as to what their reasoning or rationale is.”
Jack Lindley, chair of the Vermont state GOP, said advertising is “the method by which we get our message out. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it,” he said. “Maybe it’s unusual for Republicans to stand up and say we’ve had enough of the arrogance of single party rule.”
“What’s unusual is that we haven’t seen the Democrats respond to some pretty truthful ads,” he continued. “I am totally perplexed at their [advertising] inability. I think they’re trying to ride a wave here in the state. They think they’ve got a majority forever. I guess it’s part of their smugness.”
Vermont Democratic Party chair Jake Perkinson said that Lindley’s comments “reflected jealousy.” Democrats have focused on more sophisticated grassroots tactics instead of ads in this election cycle, he said.
“Traditionally, Democrats focus more on a grassroots approach,” said Perkinson. “Media advertising: that’s kind of a shotgun approach to campaigning … Republicans default to spending their money on TV. They don’t know where else to spend their money.”
Perkinson said Democrats don’t face the kind of strong opposition that warrants substantial ad buys, as in past elections. Democrats advertised heavily, for example, in the 2010 statewide elections.
Retired Middlebury College political scientist Eric Davis said the relatively few competitive races this time, due to the few open seats in a state where incumbents are strongly favored, could account for the Democratic restraint so far.
Davis said TV advertising would play the most crucial role in competitive downticket races, singling out the treasurer’s race and the auditor’s race.
As for Shumlin’s silence on the airwaves so far, Davis said: “My guess is that his goal is to husband as much of his resources as possible, and roll it into a 2014 campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended his campaign with $0.5 million or more.”
Republican statewide candidates have loaned themselves $477,680 combined to date, largely made up of Randy Brock’s self-financing ($300,000) and Jack McMullen’s ($152,680). Statewide Democratic candidates combined self-financed to the tune of $16,440, with Doug Hoffer ($10,000), Beth Pearce ($3,000) and Bill Sorrell ($3,440).
Much of the Republican television spending comes from Vermonters First, a super PAC which has spent almost $300,000 on TV advertising. Its Democratic counterweight, Priorities PAC, has spent only about $15,300.
Priorities PAC also launched a new initiative Monday, called “PAC Attack Week.” Anyone can upload a 30-second attack ad targeting any Super PAC, state or federal, and, if enough fans vote for the ad, see it air on local television.
Bob Stannard, Priorities PAC’s founder, described the new initiative as outsourcing ads to the public, and allowing them to protest the problem of money in politics through media.
Davis says he wonders whether television advertising makes much difference at all, given the declining viewership of network TV stations nationally. “I just don’t know, if you advertise on one of the network affiliate stations in Burlington, how many voters you’re really getting, compared to four or eight years ago,” he said.
Here’s the VTDigger tally of television ads so far, according to state campaign finance records and interviews. The number of individual ad spots is approximate, since filings do not specify how many individual ads have been produced, but only indicate when a payment has been made towards TV advertising. (Interviews and previous news reports take precedence for number and cost of ads.) Radio, online, and newspaper advertisements were not included in this tally.
Television ad comparison
Gubernatorial: Randy Brock, $160,000 with three ad spots/Peter Shumlin, $0 with no ads (according to campaign finance filing Oct. 15, 2012)
Lieutenant governor: Phil Scott, $36,281.25, with four ad spots/Cassandra Gekas, $0 with no ads spots
Attorney general: Jack McMullen, $143,855, with three ad spots/Bill Sorrell, $0 with no ads post-primary
Treasurer: Wendy Wilton, $26,909.25 with three ad spots/Beth Pearce, $40,000 with two ads spots
Auditor: Vince Illuzzi, $29,755 with three ad spots/Doug Hoffer, $16,162.75 with two ad spots
Super PACs: Vermonters First, $298,225, with four ad spots/Priorities PAC, $15,326 with one ad spot
Totals: Republican candidates and causes, $695,026 on 20 ad spots/Democratic candidates and causes, $71,489 on five ad spots
(Note: Four ad spots could mean one ad running four different channels, rather than four different ads run on four different channels.)