Remember when Billy Fuccillo and Cellino and Barnes ruled local television ads?
Today, it’s Kathleen C. Hochul and Chris Collins.
And the results aren’t always so nice.
“It’s like two prize fighters in the ring just fighting each other,” said Bill Collins, partner at the advertising agency Travers Collins.
There’s the cackle over the “trick-or-treat” ad targeting Hochul and the disdain for the ad criticizing Collins’ big house – brought to you by political operatives outside the campaigns hoping to gain an edge in the U.S. House of Representatives next year.
Spending on political advertising in Buffalo and Rochester for the 27th Congressional District has reached $4.99 million, according to a Buffalo News analysis of television ad buys. More than half of that was spent by independent groups based outside of Western New York.
With that extra money has come extra negativity.
The Sunlight Foundation found that more than three-quarters of the ads funded by super political action committees across the country have been negative.
“What you end up with is a much more negative race,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks outside spending in races across the country. “And sometimes, voters are turned off by that kind of consistent negative messaging.”
In the competitive 27th District, spending on all campaign activities by the candidates, political parties and outside groups makes it the 10th most expensive House race in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending. That has meant a barrage of ads in the Buffalo and Rochester television markets, many of which air during local news. The number of ads in the race has increased in the final weeks of the campaign as the candidates and the outside groups that support them try to sway the remaining swing voters.
Don’t expect them to stop until the polls close. Those buying political ads, public records show, have spread their dollars into the final few days, including more expensive ads in prime slots such as college football and “Dancing With the Stars,” as the race heads into Election Day on Tuesday.
But are viewers still tuning in?
“I think the attack ads are terrible,” said Ken Heer, 62, of Clarence. “I’d much rather have the candidates speak about what they’re going to do.”
Heer, who said the commercials give him the feeling the “process is broken,” isn’t alone. Negative ads that repeat over and over have prompted groans from viewers across Western New York.
“They don’t convey the real agenda for these candidates,” said Dan Massing, 72, of Williamsville.
The ads have had varying degrees of truth, and they include issues of local concern as well as attack lines adopted from the presidential campaign.
A claim contained in ads sponsored by Hochul and groups that support her – that Collins fired 115 employees when he purchased Buffalo China – was deemed false by The Buffalo News and other media in the district.
Another claim – aired in a Collins ad – states that the Affordable Care Act will result in a “trillion-dollar middle-class tax increase,” which The News also deemed false.
Fact-checking by local and national-level reporters usually doesn’t stop campaigns from making the same inaccurate claims over and over.
There’s a reason candidates turn to attack ads, said Steven Greenberg, a pollster for Siena Research Institute.
“Voters complain all the time about negative ads and negative campaigning,” Greenberg said. “It works. That’s why the Democrats do it. That’s why the Republicans do it.”
Swing voters, Greenberg said, do respond to negative ads.
Determining who, exactly, is paying for many of the ads has become more difficult since a Supreme Court ruling lifted restrictions on what outside organizations such as corporations and unions can spend in elections.
Donations made in the final weeks of the campaign to super PACs won’t have to be disclosed in many cases until early December. Other groups have no requirement to reveal their donors.
“For voters, it’s much harder to follow the source of the message,” Allison said. “And a lot of these outside groups are backed by folks who have agendas in Washington that may not have very much to do with the ads that they’re running.”
The dynamics of the 27th District race, meanwhile, have made it ripe for spending from outside organizations.
“I think that what they’re really looking for are places where you can flip a seat one way or another,” Allison said. “They’re looking for polls being close, a district where you can possibly move things with some advertising, because the name of the game is controlling the House or controlling the Senate.”
Hochul, a Democrat who won her first term in a special election last year, is running in a district that is more Republican than the seat she won in 2011, and three groups focused on retaining the Republican edge in the U.S. House have flooded money into television air time in the race to help Collins, a Republican and former Erie County executive.
He has benefited from twice as much outside spending on television ads that either attack Hochul’s record or support Collins.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the American Action Network and the National Republican Congressional Committee have spent the bulk of the $1.84 million in outside funds that have helped Collins, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also paying for ads attacking Hochul’s record in the final weeks of October.
Outside spending for Hochul, which has totaled $918,570, has come largely from two groups aimed at winning a Democratic House majority, the House Majority PAC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with help coming from two public-sector unions, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in late October.
Hochul, who has raised more in political donations than Collins has, has spent more on television ad time.
The result is that spending on television ads in the 27th District has split almost evenly between ads intended to benefit Hochul and those aimed at helping Collins, with $2.56 million spent on ads for Collins, compared with $2.43 million on ads for Hochul.
That has left TV viewers – whether they live in the district or not – at times watching back-to-back campaign commercials featuring Hochul or Collins.
At some point, said Bill Collins, those will blend in.
“When you watch TV, there is so much noise, and the political advertising is noise, almost white noise,” said Collins, who is not related to Chris Collins. “It’s like watching cars go by.”
And while viewers may be looking forward to Wednesday, another barrage of ads is on the way. “If you’re sick of political advertising, brace yourself,” Bill Collins said. “The Christmas advertising will start up right after.”
Where funds went in the 27th District
Here’s a look at how money spent on television ads in the 27th Congressional District race between Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul and Chris Collins has broken down:
Total spent to help Collins: $2,564,659
Total spent to help Hochul: $2,432,588
Ads that favor Collins: $1,357,981
Ads that favor Hochul: $1,124,598
Ads that favor Collins: $1,206,678
Ads that favor Hochul: $1,307,990
Where the money has come from:
Ads paid for or coordinated with the campaign: $716,719
Ads funded by outside groups: $1,847,940
Ads paid for or coordinated with the campaign: $1,514,018
Ads funded by outside groups: $918,570
Source: FCC public records from WKBW, WGRZ, WIVB, WHEC, WROC, WUHF, WHAM