ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It wouldnt be Super Bowl weekend without a story about advertising. But this years story is a little different, thanks to the Supreme Court. Last month, the court gave corporations a new way to spend their ad dollars - by backing their favorite political candidates.
NPRs Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: The going rate for a Super Bowl ad is about $2.5 million, thats according to Broadcasting and Cable magazine. The $2.5 million buys you 30 seconds. It made me wonder: How far would $2.5 million take you in politics? Evan Tracey has some answers. He's the president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a firm that tracks political ads on TV.
Mr. EVAN TRACEY (President, Campaign Media Analysis Group): Two and half million dollars could go a long way in a competitive congressional race this year.
OVERBY: And there are going to be plenty of competitive races in the House and in the Senate. Tracey mentioned Arkansas where Blanche Lincoln may be the most vulnerable Senate Democrat this year.
Mr. TRACEY: You could certainly get, you know, two or three months worth of a pretty consistent message out there.
OVERBY: Its hardly great news for Lincoln. She had five million cash on hand on January 1st. That was pretty good until 20 days later when the Supreme Court opened the door for corporate spending. Now that five million is less likely to scare off challengers. In fact, advertising budgets in business just dwarfed the ad budgets in politics. That became really clear in the numbers that Sheila Krumholz laid out for me. Shes director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money. I asked her how much it cost to get elected to Congress.
Ms. SHEILA KRUMHOLZ (Director, Center for Responsive Politics): The average winner last cycle spent nearly $1.4 million for a seat in the House.
OVERBY: I'm sorry, how much?
Ms. KRUMHOLZ: Nearly $1.4 million.
OVERBY: And the Senate races dont always cost that much more.
Ms. KRUMHOLZ: At least in Wyoming, the least expensive winning campaign in 2008, John Barrasso spent just under $2 million.
OVERBY: If that seems cheap, think about state politics. The Institute on Money in State Politics does. Its director is Edwin Bender.
Mr. EDWIN BENDER (Director, The Institute on Money in State Politics): Numbers that weve just crunched show that you could buy, in a significant number of states, half the Senate seats. So by providing $2.5 million you could effectively - theoretically, I guess, gain control of a legislature in a number of states.
OVERBY: And in most states it isnt even all that expensive to get elected governor - at least not expensive in corporate terms.
Mr. BENDER: Say, a third of winning gubernatorial campaigns could exist easily on $2.5 million.
OVERBY: But, really, corporations would rather promote themselves than somebody else. And Betsy Gelb says some corporations might choose to advertise a candidate for the same reason they advertise on the Super Bowl - to bask in the glow. Gelb is a marketing professor at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston.
Professor BETSY GELB (Bauer College of Business, University of Houston): If you associate yourself with what they like, could be a football team, could be the Super Bowl, could be a candidate - the assumption is disproportionately theyre going to like you.
OVERBY: Gelb says it wouldnt be a common strategy. But she could see it happening with, say, somebody advertising business to business and wanting to capture the appeal of a pro-business candidate. Just another way that an investment in politics might make good business sense.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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