Over 339,000 ads airing specific issues appeared on US television’s largest seventy-five markets between March 7 and the general election last November.

According to a study released today by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the advertisers – political parties and over seventy special interest groups – between them spent almost $250 million to advocate their causes. Political parties were the most profligate spenders, accounting for some 60% of the dollars.

The ad tracking of the major markets, carried out by Campaign Media Analysis Group, identified and measured those ads intended to influence the presidential and congressional elections, and legislative issues.

Observes the report: "Over the last three election cycles, the number of groups sponsoring ads has exploded, and consumers often don't know who these groups are, who funds them, and whom they represent."

The methodology used to measure ad spend on other issues was less scientific, and total spending for 1999-2000 was estimated via media reports as well as the ad tracking data.

On this basis, parties and special-interest groups spent more than $509 million on TV and radio commercials during the two-year cycle – a massive increase over 1996-97 when Annenberg estimated spending at $135m to $150m. The latest figures also substantially exceed those for 1998-99 when between $250 million and $341 million was spent.

The main findings also revealed that:

 The biggest spender - the Democratic and Republican parties excepted – was Citizens for Better Medicare, a group funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It accounted for $25.4 million, 10% of the total.

 Health care issues accounted for $85 million.

 In the two months before election day, 94% of issue ads made the case for or against a candidate, although such electioneering is forbidden by law.

 Eleven groups accounted for 90% of the spending, among them the political parties and Citizens for Better Medicare.

Other major spenders included AFL-CIO ($9.5m), Planned Parenthood ($5.9m), Chamber of Commerce ($5.5m), Business Roundtable ($5.4m), League of Conservation Voters ($5.2m), Americans for Job Security ($3.4 m), Emily's List ($3.4m), and the Coalition to Protect America's Healthcare ($3m).

News source: Wall Street Journal