Political-Ad Spending Nears $2 Billion Mark

Outlay for 2006 Expected to Top 2004 Numbers by 17.6%

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Political-advertising spending has zoomed past projections and is headed toward a stratospheric $2 billion-plus this year, some 17.6% more than 2004.

The surprisingly high outlay reflects the number of state ballot initiatives, races for governor and strong U.S. Senate and House races around the country.

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Evan Tracey, who tracks spending on national broadcast and cable TV stations for TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group, said spending surpassed his $1.7 billion projection for the year late last week and continues to escalate, with at least $200 million to $300 million more expected by Election Day. Mr. Tracey had originally forecast spending to total between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion this year.

Don't include spot cable
Those numbers don't include spot cable, which has attracted serious spending. An official from National Cable Communications did not return a request for comment about spending on spot cable this year.

Mr. Tracey said the surprisingly high outlay in a year without a presidential campaign reflects the number of state ballot initiatives and races for governor as well the strong U.S. Senate and House races around the country.

He said it also reflects changes in campaign-finance laws that allow increased contributions and tightened availability of broadcast time, which has pushed up prices.

'Uncharted territory'
"We can't keep up with the ad prices," he said. "We have a higher multiplier to try to figure out what issue and party groups are getting charged [above normal ad rates] to buy at the end, but it's uncharted territory because of the intensity."

He said he heard of one Los Angeles TV station raising its spot rates $25,000 virtually overnight, though he was unable to confirm it.

Mr. Tracey also attributed some of the spending to more candidates being on the air for longer periods of time, the decreasing cost of putting together a TV spot and more candidates clamoring to use TV spots even in districts that haven't advertised before.

All the while, spending continues to mount, even on the national level. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said today it has bought national cable TV time on CNN and other networks for a "significant" buy for an ad that questions the country's direction in Iraq.
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