McMahon campaign helps drive political advertising surge

Does it seem like you’ve already seen a thousand campaign commercials this year?

You’re not imagining things. In just the U.S. Senate race in Connecticut, TV commercials have aired on average  nearly 100 times a day since the general-election phase of the campaign opened Aug. 11.

And three of Republican Linda McMahon’s commercials have aired for every one of Democrat Richard Blumenthal’s, according to The Wesleyan Media Project.

The national media tracking project at Wesleyan says U.S. Senate races in Connecticut and five other states are helping fuel a massive increase in TV spending on Congressional races.

Spending on Congressional TV ads from Jan. 1 through Sept. 15 came to $220 million, compared to $135 million over the same period in 2008.

Nearly $160 million was spent on Senate races.

Spending in Connecticut was $10.4 million, including $3.9 million on ads that have aired since the general-election campaign began Aug. 11, the day after McMahon won the GOP primary.

Since Jan. 1, commercials in the Connecticut race have aired about 9,500 times, with about 3,200 of those broadcast in the first month of the general-election campaign.

The Wesleyan project is the successor to a Wisconsin study that was discontinued after 2008. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation and Wesleyan, Bowdoin College and Washington State University.

Rather than wait for quarterly campaign-finance reports, Wesleyan relies on “ad detectors” in every media market that monitors and records advertising on broadcast and cable channels.

“We do a bunch of real-time analysis on top of that,” said Erika Fowler, the co-director of the project. “We’re tracking things like tone and issues.”

With the support of “coders” trained and supported by academics at Wesleyan, Bowdoin and Washington State, every commercial eventually will be evaluated as purely positive, purely negative or a contrast ad.

“If you care about money in politics, you want to know who is attempting to influence elections, which candidates and races are being targeted and what is being said,” Fowler said. “Our goal is to provide that information publicly to increase transparency and government accountability.”