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Gubernatorial candidate spending in West Michigan

July 3, 2010

At one time in American history election “season” may have represented our great democratic process in action.  These days however election time typically consists of months and months of establishment candidates calling each other names and making tons of empty promises.  Election time also consists of television and radio consumers being totally overwhelmed with those same establishment candidate’s paid advertising.  While the stations that run the ads are regulated by the FCC to have the information regarding who bought the ads and for how much available to the public, the actual data is rarely reported on, as GRIID has noted in the past.

On Thursday afternoon a couple of us from GRIID visited the offices of WOOD TV 8, Fox 17, and WZZM to request their files on paid political advertising.  While we experienced no hostility from any of the staff at the stations, it was quite obvious that they get few requests from anyone to actually view these files.  While it is not incredibly surprising that most citizens would not spend time on this, it seems as though our local media should be reporting on the amount of money the candidates are spending.  To this reporter, therein lies one of the major flaws of our for-profit media system.  These stations are supposed to report news and hold candidates accountable. However, they are also receiving millions of dollars in revenue from those same candidates by running these ads.

Obviously the most striking part of the research was the numbers themselves.  Currently only three gubernatorial candidates have bought advertising in the Grand Rapids market, all of them Republican.  The numbers are as follows: Attorney General Mike Cox has run 446 spots, totaling $210,480 in expenditures.  Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder has run 858 paid spots totaling $289,518.  Representative Pete Hoekstra has run only 29 spots, totaling $4,415.


Cox – 163 spots                      $124060

Hoekstra – 2 spots              $550

Snyder – 442 spots             $178,105


Cox – 57 spots                        $30,010

Hoekstra – 1spot                 $50

Snyder – 80 spots                $47,606


Cox – 226 spots                     $55850

Hoekstra – 26 spots            $3815

Snyder – 336 spots              $63,407

All three of the candidates have at least paid lip service to the ideas of “fiscal responsibility” and ending wasteful spending.  However when presented with these numbers it is difficult to see how there is anything responsible about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to be able to spew thirty seconds of rhetoric.  Another bit of information contained in the files were the agencies that produced the advertisements for the candidates.  Seeing as how they are running for governor of Michigan, one might think they would use agencies located in this state.  However none of the candidates did.  Snyder’s ads were all produced by Target Enterprises, located in Encino, California.  Hoekstra used the agency Kelly, Scott, and Madison Inc. out of Chicago.  Cox’s ads were produced by Strategic Media in Delaware, Ohio.

It is also worth noting that the primary is still a month away, so all of these candidates are fighting each other to simply get the Republican Party nomination.  Despite the fact that there will be fewer candidates after the primary, it is reasonable to assume that there will be an upswing in paid advertising.  Another interesting point was that none of the Democratic Party candidates have run any ads in the Grand Rapids market.  That is certainly quite telling about how the Democrats view their chances to keep the governorship come November.

The last thing worth mentioning is that a group calling themselves The Coalition for American Jobs ran a series of ads on Fox 17 totaling $6,000 in expenditures.  The group’s web site has vague information about who they are, merely saying “We represent American businesses, industries and others concerned about the impact of potential EPA action on job creation, including the growth of green jobs”.  The web site Grist provides some insight into this obvious corporate front group.

Like many Americans, my disgust with the shallowness of our mainstream political culture has only grown over the years.  Armed now with the knowledge of how much money the candidates spend to produce these vapid advertisements, I am thoroughly ashamed.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2010 2:19 pm

    “it seems as though our local media should be reporting on the amount of money the candidates are spending”

    The Grand Rapids Press reported on this issue:

    They included most of the major points of your story.

    WOOD TV 8 also had a short story on the issue:

    However, that story doesn’t go into local detail.

    This is all fine and dandy, but if the local media reported on candidate ad spending, would elections really be any less of a farce?

  2. nickmanes permalink
    July 5, 2010 3:47 pm

    thank you for your comment. I was not aware of the Press story. I should have done more research before writing that. I take full responsibility and apologize for simply assuming that the GR Press had not reported on the issue, when indeed they had.

    As for the other part of your comment, I would say maybe. I think we as citizens need to demand more from our candidates, and not be content with low-ball attack style advertising. I do think there should be more reporting of where the candiates are getting the millions of dollars to spend. Certainly Hoekstra, Cox, and Snyder all have significant corporate donors, which more or less leaves them indebted to these same donors when and if they are elected.

  3. Kate Wheeler permalink
    July 7, 2010 3:36 pm

    Nick, there might have been GR Press coverage on this, but your article seemed much clearer and has more detail. I also like the fact that you point out things like the irony of making statements about responsible spending contrasted with the amount of money spent in this media market alone. Thanks for writing this.

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