This election cycle, WKSU is teaming with nearly a dozen newspapers, radio and TV stations across Ohio to help re-engage citizens in the political process.
Tom Troy reports that in the 2012 election year outside groups spent $85 million in Ohio on TV, radio, print and online advertising, mostly on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
But he says many of those groups have questioned whether they’re getting the bang for their buck in traditional political spending.
“That’s a question they’re asking within the ranks of these independent expenditure groups,” says Troy.
Troy says many independent groups, including the conservative the Koch brothers, are regrouping in 2016 and figuring out, “how to make better use of their money.”
But as a political reporter he says it’s not easy tracking where the money even comes from.
“There’s a lot of groups out there,” he says, and, “It’s hard to know who they are.”
Troy says the myriad super PAC’s, 501(c)(4)’s, or 527 organizations, “are somewhat secretive, because they’re not required to disclose.” And that, he says, makes it hard to even get close enough to ask questions.
Troy says big spending in 2012 was seen from both sides of aisle. The Obama campaign’s overall spending, including money that was spent by the candidate’s committee and the money that was spent by independent committees, was slightly higher than on the Romney side.
What’s a voter to do?
Still, it’s not easy for voters to track who is behind any particular attack ad.
Troy says it’s important to pay attention to the disclaimer at the end of the ad in order to tell you who paid for it.
“Paid for by Americans for Prosperity, or Fighting for Ohio, or Freedom Works, or Priority USA, or Senate Majority PAC,” are among the big spenders according to Troy, and your best bet is too just search the name online to find out what kind of group it is.
He says there’s a pretty good tell-tale that an ad is paid through the candidate’s campaign if the disclaimer includes his or her name: “Citizens for Portman, Citizens for Strickland, or Portman for Senate, or Clinton for President, then it probably came from the candidate’s own committee.”
Ohio’s ad buys, so far, are locked up by Clinton
Troy says that so far the independent expenditures on the Republican side, “have been laying low.”
But, he says, Priorities USA, the super-PAC backing Hillary Clinton, has already bought up a lot of air time in Ohio.
“They’ve bought up the cheapest, best time so they’re already way ahead of all the other campaigns,” says Troy.
Donald Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, has not bought any general election ad time in Ohio.
“No conservative super-PAC or 501(C)(4) has bought up any ad time in Ohio,” says Troy.
Big buys in Ohio’s Senate race
Troy says Ohio TV stations and other media outlets have already seen a lot of spending on the US Senate race between Ted Strickland and Rob Portman.
“There are independent expenditures going on for both candidates and both candidates are spending heavily out of their own campaigns,” says Troy.
And they’re not just dumping money in traditional media ads.
“They’re spending money on Snapchat geofilters,” says Troy, reports that Ted Strickland has rolled out a six second YouTube ad that can’t be clicked off.
“It’s so short that you can’t skip it. It’s going to pop up in front of a YouTube and run for six seconds and it’s going to be an attack ad on Rob Portman.”
“I’m trying to get it on the record as much as possible.”