Iowa political ad spending surges as caucus nears

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Spending on Iowa political TV ads leading up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses has reached $5.9 million, bolstered by “super PACs” running scathing attack ads.

In the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets alone, the 2012 Republican presidential candidates and third-party interest groups have spent nearly $5.3 million on more than 13,000 political ad spots, according to an IowaPolitics.com analysis of records at the ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX network TV affiliates in those two major media markets.

That compares with $2.3 million spent in those two markets through the end of November. Readers can review a spreadsheet of ads purchased for the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets here.

Presidential TV ads that were absent a month ago in the Omaha and Quad-Cities markets also began running in December.

At KWQC, the NBC affiliate in Davenport, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and third-party groups purchased almost 500 ad spots for $580,165.

Republican-rich northwestern Iowa TV stations have seen similar trends with ad buys picking up in the past month, said Steve Scollard, general manager of KMEG 14, a CBS affiliate in Sioux City. Readers can review of spreadsheet of ads purchased to air on the station here.

Key to the spending were “super PACs,” made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations, unions and individuals through these organizations, as long as the groups do not coordinate their spending with the candidates.

“The third-party ads are where you’re seeing the primary attacks,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

“The issue guys are starting to come out of the woodwork,” said Steve Lake, national sales manager of KCRG-TV, an ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did not begin advertising in Iowa until early December, but quickly made up time by purchasing 1,100 spots for $411,740.

He had the finances to do so, having raised $14.2 million in the third quarter of this year, second to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's $17.2 million.

But Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future, made the larger impact on Iowa’s airwaves by attacking Gingrich. The super PAC spent at least $1.1 million on 1,146 ads in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Quad-Cities markets.

When spending by Romney and his super PAC were combined, they spent more than $1.5 million on 2,246 ad spots in the three major Iowa media markets.

One Restore Our Future ad asserts that President Barack Obama’s plan is to “destroy” Romney and run against Gingrich, whom it calls the least conservative candidate.

“Newt has a ton of baggage,” the ad says. “He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Newt supports amnesty for illegal immigrants and teamed with (former Democratic U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and (former Democratic Vice President) Al Gore on global warming.”

The Gingrich campaign shot back this week, claiming the Restore Our Future ad contains numerous lies. Among other things, the campaign said that 83 of the 84 ethics charges filed against Gingrich when he was U.S. House speaker, regarding the use of tax-exempt funds for a college course he taught, were found to be without merit and dropped.

“I would suggest you look at the Washington Post, which says that the latest Romney ad got ‘four Pinocchio’s,’” Gingrich told reporters in Des Moines, referring to the Post's political rating scale.

Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, Gingrich’s Iowa campaign chairwoman, said running attack ads isn’t an effective long-term strategy.

“What I’ve watched is the negative feedback from people that have just been saturated with this. That’s not what they want to talk about, not what they want to hear about. They want to talk about ideas and solutions,” Upmeyer said. “Here you are with your family for Christmas, and all you see is attack ads. I don’t think Iowans like that.”

Bystrom and Lake said they expected ads running around Christmas to be more “warm and fuzzy.” Lake noted that Gingrich, Perry and Romney all included their wives in holiday ad spots.

The prediction was accurate. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s campaign on Thursday announced a new Christmas-themed adfeaturing his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that will run in Iowa and New Hampshire on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The 30-second ad features Rand Paul touting how his father has stayed true to his principles and convictions.

Gingrich, who has vowed to remain positive in the campaign, in December purchased 391 ad spots for $196,238 in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Quad-Cities markets.

TV stations in those markets did not show any ad buys from Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning Our Future.

Rick Tyler, a top official with Winning Our Future, told Politico this week that his group will not hesitate to attack Romney. However, Winning Our Future President Becky Burkett said the super PAC has no plans to respond in kind to a series of attack ads by Restore Our Future.

Perry, meanwhile, maintained his lead in paid political advertising on Iowa TV stations. He purchased 5,301 ad spots at a cost of $1.4 million in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets.

Perry’s TV ads were bolstered by his super PAC, Make Us Great Again. When spending by Perry’s campaign and his super PAC were combined, the two ran 6,413 ads at a cost of $1.9 million. Perry and his super PAC also were running ads in the Omaha and Sioux City markets.

Paul, who is the new Iowa front-runner according to recent polls, purchased 1,423 ad spots for $728,030. His super PAC,Revolution PAC, did not make any TV ad buys in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids or Quad-City markets.

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum also got on the air in mid-December with the help of his super PAC, the Red White & Blue Fund, which purchased 251 ad spots for $153,348.

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was the only Republican presidential candidate campaigning in Iowa who was not running ads on the air in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

She hasn’t run ads since August when she won the Ames Straw Poll. Her standing in the race has declined since.

Political TV ad buys in Iowa have fallen fall short of the 2008 presidential campaign cycle, which featured contests for Republicans and Democrats. That year, TV stations statewide collected an estimated $37.8 million to $43 million for political ads.

Lynn Campbell was joined in reporting this story by Hannah Hess. Campbell and Hess cover government and politics for IowaPolitics.com, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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