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    Two Myths: TV Ad Costs and Dole's Spending Cap

    By Dwight L. Morris
    March 10, 1996

    When pundits decry the cost of electing an American president, they usually point to television ad costs are the main reason that the costs is so high. Unfortunately for the pundits, that's just not the case in 1996.

    When Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole finally secures the Republican presidential nomination – probably later this month – it will not be because he spent the most on television advertising. Far from it.

    From the outset, Dole's campaign has been built around the assumption that he would win the nomination handily. While millionaire publisher Steve Forbes has spent well over $17 million to produce and air television and radio commercials, Dole as invested the vast majority of his $27 million campaign war chest in building the nationwide organization he hopes will carry him to the White House in November.

    Dole - Through January 31, the most recent date for which figures are available, Dole had spent $27,104,901 on his latest presidential bid.

    An ElectionLine analysis of that spending found just $2,655,978, or 9.7 percent of his spending, had been devoted to producing and airing his commercials. That advertising outlay was $1,249,358 less than he spent on salaries, payroll taxes, and health insurance benefits for his massive campaign staff.

    Dole has established dozens of campaign offices throughout the country.

    Rent, utilities, parking and basic maintenance costs for his Washington D.C. office alone had amounted to $383,015 by the end of January. The bills for computers and other office equipment purchased from vendors in the Washington, D.C. area totaled $902,270. Xpedite Systems of Newark, N.J., had collected $92,898 for faxing press releases to journalists throughout the country. While they represented only the tip of the overhead iceberg, together these three sets of expenses amounted to just $327,680 less than the $1,705,863 Dole had spent on media buys.

    Through the end of January, Dole had paid his chief direct-mail fund-raising consultant, Odell, Roper and Simms of Falls Church, Va., $4,283,957. Its subsidiary, Campaign Mail and Data, had received another $1,276,119, including $811,551 for handling Dole's federal matching fund account. Dole's primary telemarketing fund raiser, Direct Connect of Mission, Ks., had been paid $304,136. In addition, hundreds of thousands of dollars had been pumped into fund-raising receptions targeting $1,000 donations.

    Despite the steady drumbeat of often misleading news reports focusing on the high cost of broadcast advertising, Dole was not alone in devoting well under one-quarter of his campaign treasury to television and radio advertising.

    Alexander - Through January 31, former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, who abandoned his presidential campaign last week, had spent $12,170,874. The Murphy, Pintak, Gautier Agency of McLean, Va., had collected $2,534,234, or roughly 21 percent of that total, for creating and placing television and radio commercials, an ElectionLine analysis shows.

    Buchanan - Of the $10,636,516 Patrick Buchanan had spent in pursuit of the Republican nomination, $1,714,601 – 14 percent – had been put into his commercials, an ElectionLine analysis says.

    While these percentages have undoubtedly climbed somewhat over the past month as the primary season moved into high gear, the overall pattern will not have changed substantially once the February financial reports are filed. Primaries and caucuses are largely won or lost on the ground.

    Limits, What Limits?

    Much has also been made of the fact that once the February numbers are totaled, Dole will have already spent more than $30 million of the $37 million ceiling on pre-convention spending that he agreed to live by as a condition for receiving federal matching funds.

    Here, too, there is reason to suspect that Dole is less concerned about that fact than the pundits. His advisors have already begun signaling that they will look for ways to fob his campaign expenses off on state and federal Republican party committees.

    If 1988 is any hint...

    Dole has also shown a willingness to vastly exceed the largely toothless limits in the past.

    Routine audits of Dole's 1988 presidential campaign conducted by the Federal Election Commission showed his campaign had broken numerous federal election laws, including the prohibition against accepting corporate contributions. Following a lengthy negotiation with the FEC (the FEC cannot impose fines; it can negotiate fines with those who break the law or refer the case to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution), Dole's campaign committee agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty for, among other things, exceeding the 1988 spending limit in Iowa ($775,217.60) by a whopping $304,065.44. The 1988 Dole campaign didn't stop there: it proceeded to exceed the $461,000 spending limit in New Hampshire by $284,084.46.

    Scott E. Morgan, counsel to the 1988 Dole for President Committee, signed the conciliation agreement on July 7, 1993 – more than five years after the infractions occurred.

    Should Dole or any other candidate simply choose to ignore the 1996 spending limits, they will not be held personally liable and their campaign committees could easily prolong the adjudication process for years. Had Dole been elected President in 1988, he could have been well into his second term by the time his infractions were punished. That's hardly a deterrent.

    This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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