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Rich Robinson

To Spend or Not to Spend

August 17, 2012

It’s axiomatic in politics: You don’t spend big money in a campaign you know you’re going to win, or you know you’re going to lose.

Although there is the Citizens United corollary: Unless you have more money than you know what to do with.

The presidential campaign is playing out in Michigan like no place else in the nation. Setting aside the month of February, when the viable candidates and their respective SuperPACs all were active prior to our presidential primary, the airwaves in Michigan have belonged exclusively to the nonprofit advocacy corporations of the right and a pair of SuperPACs backing Mitt Romney.

Americans for Prosperity, American Future Fund, American Energy Alliance, 60 Plus Alliance, Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads and Restore Our Future have spent more than $10 million blasting away at the Obama administration and its policies in a television ad blitz that has barely taken a pause.

Neither the Obama campaign, nor the committees supporting it, has responded on television—at all. If you’ve seen an Obama ad on TV in Michigan, it was part of a national cable buy.

In the other states touted as battlegrounds—Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire—it’s been very different from Michigan. The Obama campaign—mainly, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action have gone blow for blow with Romney and his proxies in the campaign ad war.

The Obama campaign committee was stretched into spending $267 million by the end of July because it simply hasn’t had the same level of support from independent spenders as Romney. It has been forced to be selective about its spending. Still, its posture in Michigan has certainly been notable—or, it should be. Either someone has ice-water in his veins, or they’re reading something in the polls that many observers are not.

Last week Americans for Prosperity began a new $25 million anti-Obama ad campaign in nine states. Michigan was not on the target list.

This week Romney’s SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, placed a new $10 million ad buy in eleven states. Michigan was on that list with a $600,000 buy.

Obama’s powder is still dry in Michigan. Are we a battleground or aren’t we?

Last weekend, Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog handicapped Obama’s chances of winning Michigan at 89-11.

It’s still early and things can change, but Michigan may move into the “uncompetitive” column earlier than any presidential campaign of the last four. Even if that is so, don’t expect the Romney campaign to play poker as poorly as John McCain’s campaign did in 2008. For the sake of down-ballot candidates, look for Michigan’s native son to make a better show than McCain’s ostentatious fold.

What will fill the airwaves in October?

Michigan television broadcasters have noted the millions of dollars already placed for the remainder of election season. The Detroit International Bridge Company, the campaign opposing the increased renewable energy standard and incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s campaign are the big spenders, so far, for the last twelve weeks of campaign season.

Crossroads GPS just began a five-state senatorial “issue” campaign. Debbie Stabenow was not on that hit list.

What probably would have been the most expensive ballot campaign, the effort to expand casino gambling, appears to have been given a death sentence in the courtroom. The same fate may be awaiting the proposal to enshrine collective bargaining in the Michigan Constitution.

So, what’s left? If “Protect Our Jobs,” the collective bargaining effort, is killed by the judiciary, nearly $7 million in union contributions that are parked in the ballot committee could be re-purposed quickly. I won’t be surprised if that money is redirected to the Supreme Court contest. We may see America’s first $20 million judicial election.

Rich Robinson is the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. The opinions expressed here are his own, not necessarily those of his employer.

August 16, 2012 · Filed under Robinson Tags: , , , ,

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mrs. A // Aug 17, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I’m always amazed that the PACs think anyone pays attention to their wretched propaganda. My mute button is ready for action, and luckily I DVR most shows so can skip all of it. It’s become a wall of noise, and no one in my acquaintance pays any mind anymore.

    My personal political choices are rendered from extensive reading and a thorough consideration of issues, not from exposure to commercial propaganda. When the PACs eat up the finite commercial time, my local small business owners (car dealers, window makers, eyewear specialists, apparel providers etc) who usually advertise are cut out — does anyone else see that irony from a party that harps about supporting small business?

    The truth is, we Michiganders remember who supported the auto companies and who did not, and all the PAC lies the GOP wants to throw at us will not change that.

    Sadly, I can just imagine the good that might be done with all that PAC advertising money — the unemployed workers who could be retrained, the infrastructure that could be repaired, the children who could be fed — and instead it is spoon-fed to wealthy media owners and frittered away in buying air time that disappears into the ether, sound and fury, signifying …

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