- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama ranks 11th in the U.S. in spending on TV ads for the 2014 state-level campaigns and first on such spending in legislative races, according to a national report.

The report by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity found that Alabama campaigns for state-level offices, ranging from governor to the Legislature and state school board, had spent $6.9 million on TV ads that had aired through Sept. 8. The number will grow significantly as the general election approaches on Nov. 4.

Through the same point in 2010, Alabama candidates had spent $10.9 million on TV ads. One of the report’s authors, Kytja Weir, said the big difference was the open seat for governor in 2010 and the crowded field seeking it. Candidates for governor had spent $7.3 million in the 2010 campaign, compared with $1.4 million for the 2014 campaign. In this year’s race, Republican incumbent Robert Bentley has accounted for $1.1 million and Democratic challenger Parker Griffith $281,000.

In some states, political groups running ads independent of the candidates have played a major role in TV spending. But in Alabama, candidates accounted for $6.5 million of the total and groups only $433,800. The biggest spending groups were the political action committee of the state teachers’ organization, the Alabama Education Association, with $307,300 in ads and former Gov. Bob Riley’s Alabama 2014 PAC with $125,000. Riley’s group spent money to try to maintain the Republican majority in the Legislature, while AEA spent money to challenge some incumbent Republican legislators.

The report’s authors said spending by political groups tends to be smaller in states like Alabama that don’t limit fundraising by candidates.

Alabama stood out from other states because legislative races accounted for $3.4 million in TV ads, or nearly half of the state’s total. That was more than any other state. Alabama’s spending came in hotly contested primaries with open seats or seats with Republican incumbents challenged by candidates supported by the AEA.

Weir said Alabama has cheap TV ad rates, with a spot going for as little as $10. She said that makes advertising more accessible to candidates for lower-level offices.

Alabama’s chief election official, Secretary of State Jim Bennett, said the spending reflects the importance of legislative elections. “What’s at stake is control of the Legislature. The Republican Party has a supermajority and wants to hold on to it. The Democrats want to break that lock,” he said.

The single most expensive legislative race in terms of TV advertising was the open seat in Senate District 30 in the Prattville and Wetumpka area. Candidates spent nearly $614,000, with winner Clyde Chambliss accounting for $404,700, according to the study.

The most expensive statewide race other than governor has been the Republican primary for the open position of secretary of state. Former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney spent $391,000 on TV ads and the winner, state Rep. John Merrill of Tuscaloosa, had $327,000 in ads.

The two hot Republican primary races for the Alabama Public Service Commission featured big spending. The report said candidates for the two seats on the utility regulatory board spent a total of $729,800, with Chip Beeker spending $344,900 to unseat incumbent Terry Dunn, while incumbent Jeremy Oden laid out $357,700 to keep his seat.

When TV spending was compared with voting-age eligible residents, Alabama ranked 13th in the nation at $1.96 per capita.

The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in all of the country’s 210 media markets. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot.

These figures represent only part of the money spend on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online, in direct mail, or on local cable systems, or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads can be significantly higher.

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