Report: Texas political ad spending 2nd most in US

PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas voters already tired of Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis dueling in television ads with Election Day still six weeks out should brace for plenty more.

Figures released Wednesday show Texas trailing only Pennsylvania in political TV ad spending this election year, flooding airwaves with an estimated $38.6 million spent so far on promoting and attacking candidates in state-level races, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity.

The governor’s race between Abbott and Davis accounts for only a third of that spending — but that will surely change as Nov. 4 draws closer. For now, here’s a closer look at who’s spent what in Texas:

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Q: Who’s buying the most TV time?

A: Davis has spent slightly more on TV at $4.8 million in trying to catch her Republican rival in the polls. Abbott has spent $4.2 million, but having started July with a 3-to-1 advantage in cash on hand, he’s positioned to dominate airwaves down the stretch.

They still haven’t surpassed the $10.8 million combined that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick spent on TV during a nasty Republican primary battle for lieutenant governor — which ranks as the sixth-most expensive race in the U.S so far this year. Leaning on his personal wealth, Dewhurst bought $5.8 million in ads during his failed bid for a fourth term, but Patrick had enough money from conservative groups to keep pace and win a runoff.

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Q: Who’s not spending?

A: Outside influences — which makes Texas an anomaly compared to other big states.

Independent groups — such as the Republican Governors Association, or issue-driven political action committees — have bought roughly 30,000 more ads nationally targeting state-level races than in 2010. But not in Texas, where 99 percent of all ad buys have been by the candidates’ campaigns.

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One reason: the Davis-Abbott race has been less competitive than gubernatorial battles both in primaries and general elections states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. Texas is also among the handful of states with no caps on campaign contributions — giving candidates all the TV time that limitless fundraising can buy.

“If there’s one argument to be made for having no limits on how much you can give to a candidate, it really keeps the outside spending down,” said John Dunbar, deputy executive editor at the Center for Public Integrity.


Q: Is it my imagination, or are most of the ads I’m seeing negative?

A: Nearly 9 of every 10 ads from Davis have attacked Abbott, who didn’t start going negative against Davis on TV until last week. The most talked-about ad was Davis’ shadowy dramatization of a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who raped a Texas mother, who Abbott later sided against in a lawsuit while serving on the Texas Supreme Court.


Q: How does this compare to 2010?

A: Spending in Texas is actually down 13 percent so far from the last time Texas picked a governor, but for good reason. Roughly $41 million had already been spent on gubernatorial ads at this point in 2010 — when Gov. Rick Perry and then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison waged a fierce Republican primary battle.


Q: How were these figures compiled?

A: The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in all of the country’s 210 media markets. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot.

These figures do not include federal elections such as Sen. John Cornyn’s bid for re-election and House of Representatives races. They only represent part of the money spend on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, as well television ads on local cable systems or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads can be significantly higher.