Political ad spending hits record $400.5 mil

NEW YORK – Political candidates spent a record $400.5 million on broadcast advertising last year, but the major networks saw their lowest share ever of campaign coin.

The Television Bureau of Advertising on Wednesday released aggregate 1996 campaign figures, showing candidates spent a whopping $366.7 million on spot and local TV, but just $33.8 million on networks, the lowest network total since 1980.

While congressional and gubernatorial races are necessarily waged at the local level, the depressed network totals stemmed from the shift by President Clinton and his Republican challenger, Bob Dole, to focus on key states. In the 1992 race, networks snared 25% of the $300 million in political spending, compared with just 8.5% last year. Reform Party candidate Ross Perot was the saving grace for the nets, spending $29 million on spots. He also bought a series of half-hour infomercials that aired on the Big Three webs.

Overall, election-year TV ad spending rose 31% vs. 1992, to $400.5 million, but the figure (which doesn’t include cable advertising) fell far short of the $500 million TVB had projected.

Among candidates, Clinton and Dole each spent about $29 million, and their respective political parties spent $24 million more in so-called “soft money” promoting their candidates. Perot’s budget went almost entirely to the nets, while erstwhile challenger Steve Forbes spent $3 million before exiting the race.

Locally, Los Angeles was the top beneficiary of political advertising, as the market sucked up almost $29 million from candidates and several California ballot initiatives. New York was next with $22 million, followed by Boston ($17 million), Chicago ($13 million) and Atlanta ($12 million).

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