Analysis: Florida candidates leave the dirty ad spending to outside groups

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What can only be described as an insane amount of money has been spent on television advertising for the two gubernatorial candidates. $71.6 million has been shelled out by outside groups and the Rick Scott and Charlie Crist campaigns for mostly nasty mudslinging.

More than 85,000 TV ads have aired throughout the course of the 2014 election cycle either in support of Governor Rick Scott or in total condemnation of Charlie Crist. Meanwhile a little more than half that was aired by groups either damning Rick Scott’s administration as utterly evil or heralding Crist as the hero who will swoop in on his white horse and save the state from evil Rick.

The Republican Party of Florida dropped an estimated $34 million on broadcast television ads. Nearly $20 million of that was on attack ads against Charlie Crist. The Florida Democratic Party didn’t spend nearly as much, but the number is still impressive. Of the nearly $23 million spent on TV spots, $14.6 million was spent on ads assaulting Scott’s record. These numbers released by the Center for Public Integrity don’t take into account spending on local television ads and the money spent going negative doesn’t include ads that combined a mixed message of support and utter attackiness.

Each candidate also has deep backing from outside political committees. Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC spent about $10.8 million on ads with just $3.4 million worth being positive. Another $4.6 million of that went toward anti-Crist spots. Crist, the former Republican governor turned independent turned Democrat, has enjoyed $3 million in spending on TV ads from the group NextGen Climate Action. All of that money accounting for nearly 3,500 ads was just straight up Scott bashing.

What’s potentially most shocking about these numbers isn’t necessarily the sheer amount of outside spending to make each opponent look despicable in the eyes of voters, it’s what the candidates’ own campaigns forked over for broadcast TV exposure. While his party and committee spent a combined total of nearly $45 million, Scott’s campaign spent a measly $176,300.

The disparity in advertising spending for Crist isn’t quite as bad – he dropped nearly $1 million of his campaign cash on TV ads – it’s still pretty daunting. Outside groups spent $26.1 million on Crist’s behalf.

Candidates hoping to either stay in or return to the Governor’s mansion aren’t the only one’s taking advantage of outside spending on ads. RPOF spent $1.6 million almost split evenly between ads supporting State Senator Jeff Brandes and those attacking his opponent, Judithanne McLauchlan. That left Brandes only spending just over $300,000 of his own campaign cash for television spots.

While Republicans are paying through the nose to hold onto Brandes’ district 22 seat, they’re also dropping a pretty penny trying to win back House District 68. Dwight Dudley nabbed that seat from Republicans during the last election. So far this election cycle the Republican Party has spent more than a half million dollars trying to replace him with Bill Young Jr., the son of the beloved longtime member of Congress C.W. Bill Young. Most of that spending has been on negative ads targeting Dudley. Dudley is footing the bill all on his own for TV ads. He spent $81,800 on all positive ads touting his own accomplishments. Most of that self-bragging has been touting his attempts to repeal what he calls the “nuclear tax” that allows utilities to collect advanced fees for planned nuclear projects. Florida ratepayers are on the hook for $3.2 million for two projects that have since been cancelled.

The data released by the Center for Public Integrity shows all but four statewide candidates running nothing but positive ads with their own campaign cash. The negative ads have come overwhelmingly from outside groups.

As for Amendment 2, the medical marijuana ballot measure appearing on ballots statewide, each side of that effort has one group funding ads. The Drug Free Florida Committee backed mostly by Las Vegas billionaire and wealthy GOP supporter Sheldon Adelson has spent $3.2 million for ads against Amendment 2. The John Morgan-backed People United for Medical Marijuana has spent less than $200,000. That means the opposition to medical pot has ran more than 3,000 more ads than those supporting it.

The numbers come from an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG and the National Institute on Money in State Politics data. They don’t include local cable ads, radio or online ads or future ad buys.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.