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Supreme Court Campaign Finance Decision to Give TV Stations a Spending Windfall

April 2 was like Christmas for TV station groups. The Supreme Court’s latest decision striking down limits on political campaign contributions promises to inject more velocity into the gusher of ad dollars flowing to local TV and radio stations.

The high court’s 5-4 decision invalidated the $48,600 cap an individual can give to all candidates in an election cycle, as well as the $74,600 limit on contributions to political parties. Spending on political advertising has spiked during the past four years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 removed restrictions on contributions to independent committees that advocate for or against candidates.

The windfall of money, almost all of it regionally targeted to local television and radio, has been a factor driving the rush of TV station mergers and acquisitions during the past two years. Deep-pocketed broadcasters such as Tribune Co., Gannett and Sinclair Broadcast Group have sought to create super-clusters of stations.

According to the Television Bureau of Advertising, politicos spent $2.9 billion to advertise on local stations in 2012, up 38% from $2.1 billion in 2010. The TVB predicts $2.5 billion will be spread around local TV stations in this year’s midterm elections — but that could rise, particularly in key battleground states, now that donors can write bigger checks.

Proponents of campaign finance reform decried the court’s decision. Common Cause prexy Miles Rapoport lamented the ruling “further opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us.”

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