Even if you like politics as much as an opossum likes a bag of garbage, I bet you have had enough of this year’s television ads. At least their season is nearly over.
Not only do we have more paid political messages coming into our living rooms than ever before, but far too many are nasty attacks — they lack nuance, at best, and at worst have only a tangential relationship with the truth.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision in 2010 has unleashed an enormous amount of spending by nominally independent groups, from national congressional campaign committees to labor unions to self-satisfied entrepreneurs who think government is the nation’s biggest problem.
With control of Congress at least potentially at stake Tuesday, there’s been $3.6 million dropped by outside groups in the tight 21st Congressional District race — with the Americans for Tax Reform alone spending $1.1 million on ads against incumbent Democrat Bill Owens and the National Republican Congressional Committee chipping in another $760,000.
According to Federal Elections Commission filings, even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gotten into the act, spending $390,000 on advertising against Owens. That’s spent independently by the candidates, of course (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not taken that lying down and has ponied up $947,000, mostly to attack Owens’ opponent, Republican Matthew Doheny.
Outside groups have also packed more than $5 million into the 19th Congressional District race — and we’ll get to the details on that below.
But even the money that the candidates control — the kind for ads where they “approved this message” — is more than I, for one, would invest in a run for Congress.
Running a competitive campaign these days costs $1 million. At least a couple of candidates are going to spend a cool million just to lose.
In the North Country’s 21st District, Owens through Oct. 17 had raised nearly $1.9 million in official campaign money, according to federal elections filings.
Doheny, a lawyer, banker and investor from Alexandria Bay, has nearly as much money — more than $1.7 million.
A Siena College poll released Thursday has their race neck and neck, with Doheny gaining since September. One of them is going to be going home a million-dollar loser.
Owens, a Plattsburgh lawyer, was elected in 2009 after John McHugh resigned from Congress to become secretary of the Army. Owens has gotten more than $1 million from political action committees, ranging from those for public and private labor unions to those for International Paper and for the dairy industry. Another $750,000 has come from individual contributions.
Doheny, on the other hand, has collected only $165,000 in PAC money — and the PAC money he’s gotten came from other Republican congressional candidates, and from the kind of PAC that reveres free enterprise above nearly anything government ever does (for other people, anyway).
Doheny has lent his own campaign $785,000 — by far the biggest shot of self-financing in any area race.
Even though both candidates are from the North Country, the 21st has interest here. The district is the geographically huge one created this year from the entire sparsely populated slab of land that lies between Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain — from the dairy-rich plains along the St.
Lawrence River south through the Adirondacks to Fulton and Saratoga counties. Saratoga County is now split north and south between the 21st District and Paul Tonko’s 20th District.
For his part, Tonko has raised $920,000 toward re-election, while his Republican opponent, Glenville banker Robert Dieterich, has raised only $216,000, including a $10,000 personal loan to the campaign.
Interestingly, no independent expenditure money has come into that race at all.
In the 19th Congressional District, Republican Chris Gibson has raised nearly $2 million for his re-election campaign, while his Democratic challenger Julian Schreibman has raised $1.2 million. It’s another case where someone will spend $1 million to become a future footnote.
But the spending by outside groups exceeds that of the candidates looking to represent the Hudson Valley and Catskills.
The Democratic National Campaign Committee has spent $1.3 million on anti-Gibson media buys, and the House Majority PAC — taking on the uphill battle to restore a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives — has spent $480,000 on mailers attacking the incumbent. Not to be outdone, the National Republican Campaign Committee is spending $1.2 million on anti-Schreibman ads.
But for sheer clout, it’s hard to beat the $15.4 million Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has raised for what who looks more and more every day like a gentle lope into a full six-year term in the Senate, where she’s served by appointment or special election since 2009.
Wendy Long, Gillibrand’s Republican opponent, has managed to raise only $722,000. She’s had little television advertising presence.
No wonder Gillibrand can run gleaming positive ads where she walks through high-tech factories and talks about the future, upbeat ads. They make the former local congresswoman the exception in this year’s season of vituperation.