- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Outside political groups have poured $1.3 million into TV advertising for the Louisiana governor’s race, meaning the conversation about candidates is being at least partially shaped by a small number of donors with hefty bank accounts.

The spending, largely on attack ads, accounts for 29 percent of all $4.5 million in TV advertising devoted to the governor’s race so far, according to an analysis of ad spending by the Center for Public Integrity.

And, with a few deep-pocketed donors continuing to pour money into the political action committees without limits, voters likely can expect these independent groups to keep up the mudslinging until the Oct. 24 election.

“We’re stepping into another era,” said Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat. “The background noise is so dominating and so massive, the money, that the individual campaigns are having a tough time being able to outpace the PACs and get attention.”

Candidates are pumping significant sums into TV ads as well, about $3.2 million so far, according to the data. With Gov. Bobby Jindal term-limited, the race is wide open.

Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s campaign - which has dwarfed the other three major candidates in fundraising - accounts for more than 40 percent of that TV ad spending by candidates, paying $1.3 million to air spots across Louisiana.

Close behind is Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who has spent $1.1 million on TV advertising. But Angelle spread the ads over many months as he tried to build name recognition. Vitter’s ads have been more omnipresent because he’s spent large amounts in a tight time period.

Two other major gubernatorial contenders - GOP Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards - started TV advertising in the last month, with Dardenne’s campaign shelling out $429,000 through this week and Edwards’ campaign paying nearly $403,000 on television spots.

The Center for Public Integrity analyzed data about political advertising on broadcast television from Kantar Media/CMAG, a media tracking firm that monitors 211 media markets around the country and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot.

These figures cover ads aired between Jan. 1, 2014, and Sept. 28, 2015, yet represent only part of the money spent on political advertising. They do not include ads for radio, online, direct mail or TV ads that aired on local cable systems. The estimates also do not include the cost of making the ads.

While Vitter has launched attack ads against his Republican rivals, most of the backbiting has come at the hands of independent groups who can raise unlimited cash and need only find a few wealthy benefactors to keep the TV spots on the air.

Top spender among the super PACs is the pro-Vitter Fund for Louisiana’s Future. It’s spent more than $567,000 on TV ads through this week, including spots that have struck at both Dardenne and Angelle. And it has another $3 million in the bank to continue the advertising, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the state ethics board.

Vitter donated $950,000 from his U.S. Senate campaign account to the PAC, an end-around Louisiana’s prohibitions against transferring dollars from a federal campaign account to a state one.

A super PAC backing Angelle’s candidacy, called Louisiana Rising PAC, spent nearly $443,000 on TV ads so far, including an ad slamming Vitter for changing his position on the Common Core education standards. It has another $1.1 million to spend after receiving $1 million from wealthy Houston oilman James Flores.

Vitter’s also taking hits from an independent organization calling itself the Louisiana Water Coalition PAC, which has spent more than $221,000 so far on TV ads reminding voters of Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal. One 30-second ad says: “We can do better than Vitter.”

The senator admitted to a “serious sin” after phone records linked him to Washington’s “D.C. Madam” prostitution case.

The water coalition PAC has one donor: Talbot Carmouche & Marcello, a law firm that has filed lawsuits against oil and gas companies for coastal wetlands damage.

Vitter opposes the lawsuits and wants changes to the state’s civil court system to curb similar suits in the future. In an email to supporters, he’s blamed the prostitution ad on “liberal trial lawyers” and called it a “gutter campaign against me full of stale attacks.”

A super PAC supporting Dardenne, called the Now or Never Louisiana PAC, has spent $67,000 on TV ads.

Seventy percent of all $6.4 million in TV advertising dollars spent on the election so far, according to the Center for Public Integrity analysis, went to ads involving the governor’s race.

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