WASHINGTON -- Labor unions and progressive groups, business lobbies and conservative outlets spent more than $3 million in television ads in state during the course of the Wisconsin budget fight, an analysis of expenditures that was commissioned by The Huffington Post shows.
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That amounts to more than $1 million per week of the budget battle, hardly chump change and a reflection of the growth of major spending on legislative battles, even those based in the states, by politically-oriented institutions.
All told, those groups opposed to Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget-repair bill spent $1,663,630 on television advertisements that aired in Wisconsin, according to Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Those supportive of the budget spent $1,535,770.
Those totals don’t include spending on ads being run nationally by conservative groups like Crossroads GPS, or ads that have just been put up, such as those by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
“Certainly it is at the higher end of the historical spectrum,” Tracey said. “In this one, all eyes were on Wisconsin and it raised the stakes beyond just that state. Spending this kind of money is not done just for the press to absorb ... they are out there to persuade public opinion. These are real buys.”
The most telling aspect of the ad purchases may be the sequence rather than the magnitude. Labor groups, as Tracey posited, moved quickly to set the narrative around Walker’s anti-collective bargaining bill, which passed into law only after being stripped from the rest of the budget. And by doing so, they were able to motivate both within and beyond Wisconsin.
By contrast, the conservative ads were more responsive and less coordinated. Absent Walker’s procedural moves, it’s not clear if they would have been all that effective.
As one GOP operative told The Huffington Post, before the collective bargaining measure actually passed: “Labor jumped on a great opportunity and kicked our asses.”
With lessons learned, the template seems to have been set for budget fights elsewhere. Tracey cited debates over New York senior citizen centers and money for California cops and prison guards as potential upcoming flashpoints.