- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) — More than $45 million was spent by advocacy groups on ads designed to influence federal policy makers in 2001, according to a study released Tuesday by the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study, "Print and Television Legislative Issue Advertising in the Nation's Capital in 2001," explains that more than 375 organizations and groups purchased print or television issue ads in the Washington media market, with half of the money — more than $22 million — going to television ads sponsored by just over 10 percent of the groups.

"While candidate issue advocacy has received a great deal of attention by scholars, politicians and reporters, legislative advocacy has flown under the radar," Annenberg Center Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson said in a statement.

According to the study, the money spent on energy and power, education, telecommunications and health care issues amounted to 61 percent of the total spending for the year.

The issue of grassroots and "faux grassroots" efforts is a thorny one in Washington. Many consultants who specialize in these types of issue advocacy efforts prefer to remain in the background, hoping to preserve the appearance of grassroots legitimacy surrounding some campaigns that are actually created from the top down. They, as well as those consultants who run genuine grassroots campaigns, question the wisdom of the Washington-intensive media efforts.

"A member of Congress does not have to have too high of an I.Q. to figure out that his constituents are not reading National Journal or The Hill" — two Washington-centered publications where issue ads can frequently be found — one Washington grassroots lobbying professional who requested anonymity told United Press International.

"The real trick is making sure the folks back home are seeing the ads and absorbing and acting on the messages, calling in to district offices and the Capitol to voice their opinion. That is what moves votes on Capitol Hill," he said.

"A member knows the campaign is serious when it is directed at his constituents, not when it is directed at Washington reporters, congressional staffers and other consultants," he added.

The top spender in 2001, according to Annenberg figures, is Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a non-profit group based in Alexandria, Va. According to Annenberg estimates, ABEC spent more than $5 million on ads promoting coal as "affordable, clean, efficient and reliable."

Also on the list of top spenders was the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a group promoting vouchers to allow low-income and minority students to find alternatives to failing public school systems; the National Abortion Rights Action League, which spent an estimated $3.5 million on what the Annenberg Center says were "five distinct spots that ran over 1,370 times," defending legal abortion.

On an issue-by-issue breakdown, power and energy issue ads accounted for almost 20 percent of the total spending, close to $9 million by the Annenberg center's estimates. Education came in second at just under $6.5 million, barely ahead of telecommunications. Generic business concerns, foreign affairs, tobacco, taxes and the economy also made the list for 2001.

The Annenberg Center says the figures in the study were compiled by researchers who examined ads that ran in the Washington metropolitan area that had as their subject issues before the president, Congress or a federal regulatory agency. The study also included ads concerned with matters of public policy debate.

To be included, the center says, the ads had to run in 2001 in the Washington Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Congress Daily AM or Roll Call — all of which are Washington publications read by significant numbers of legislators, federal officials and others who have an influence on public policy formulation. The study also included broadcast ads that ran on local Washington television stations or that ran nationally on the networks or cable.

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