Lansing TV stations see $5M boost from political ads

By Kyle Melinn

Lansing’s four major television networks are seeing more than $5 million in revenue this campaign season. But it’s not as much as the stations hoped — and not as much as it could have been.

With neither the presidential or U.S. Senate races competitive in Michigan, the ad revenue isn’t coming into the local stations like it did even in 2010.

Two years ago, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, former Rep. Mark Schauer and their allies exhausted $15 million in television ad revenue, one of the country’s highest numbers. Lansing was a huge recipient of that money.

This year, the Democrats couldn’t find a top-tier challenger for Walberg, letting him essentially skate to re-election.

If it weren’t for the six ballot proposals, the 2012 election cycle would have been dismal for local TV stations. Luckily for them, there are more special interests than you can shake a stick at playing the high-stakes ballot proposals game.

In the past, up to 80 percent of TV campaign ad revenue came from individual candidates, said WILX ad executive Pat Schooley. Now, stations are seeing 527s and special political action committees spearheading a bulk of the spending.

Take the presidential race.

Mitt Romney isn’t spending money in Lansing, but his SuperPACs sure are. Combined, the seven entities are in for over $1.5 million as of Oct. 2, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

If it were up to Romney himself, the campaign would probably rather see that money spent in the must-have swing states of Ohio or Florida. But Michigan’s high-dollar Romney contributors are specifically asking the SuperPACs to spend their money in Michigan.

The reason? The better Romney does in Michigan, the more likely the Republicans are to hold onto their advantages in Congress, the state House and the Supreme Court. Also, business interests are adamant about defeating Proposal 2, but need GOP enthusiasm to do so.

A weak top of the ticket — like 2008 nominee John McCain — would be a disaster for Republicans. Any loss under 10 percentage points cuts Obama’s coattails.

It’s obvious Michigan isn’t really in play because neither Obama nor his surrogates have spent a dime here.

The U.S. Senate race is even more of a laugher. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, is putting close to $500,000 into Lansing television, but that’s more because she has $5 million to spend.

Again, the 7th Congressional race is a zero. Walberg is spending a little money on TV, but it’s nothing significant. Lansing Democrat Lance Enderle, who is running in the 8th District against U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, doesn´t have two nickels to rub together. Rogers will coast again to re-election.

U.S. Rep. Dave Camp represents northern sections of the Lansing media market and has a little bit of network TV up. But like Stabenow, he’s just got an ungodly amount of bank to spend so he’s doing it.

Locally, state Rep. Deb Shaughnessy, R-Charlotte, and her allies are spending money on TV, as is Democratic Theresa Abed, but neither can come close to matching the volume of a congressional race or even the high-dollar state House races in Jackson of 2006.

The state Republican and Democratic parties will end up spending less than $1 million locally on the state Supreme Court. It’s because most of the money is going into the ballot proposals.

As of Oct. 8, $13.85 million has been spent on Michigan television stations for ballot proposals, with $3 million of that going to Lansing.

Locally, almost half was spent on either side of Proposal 2, the collective bargaining amendment, with about $700,000 spent by each side.

The UAW, MEA and other segments of organized labor are urging a “yes” vote through a ballot committee named “Protect Working Families.” The “no” vote is made up of two committees, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution and Protecting Michigan’s Taxpayers, which are expected to be bankrolled by business interests, CEOs and other corporate executives.

The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, is funding Proposal 6, the constitutionally required public vote for any future new international bridge. They’ve pumped more than $1 million in Lansing’s television stations for a “yes” vote as of Oct. 8.

The “no” side on Proposal 3, the 25 percent renewable portfolio standard, has sunk $634,000 into Lansing’s TV markets. The “yes” side has spent $54,000.

The only other ballot committee, the “yes” vote on the unionization of home health care workers (Proposal 4), has is in for $291,000.

There’s still two weeks left and some ad time to be purchased, but waiting has consequences. The later campaigns wait, the more expensive airtime becomes and the more cluttered the airwaves become.

As far as the TV stations are concerned, though, the money can keep on coming.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of MIRS News. He can be reached