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Broadcasters cash in on political ads

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Kai Ryssdal: On the small screen, it’s not the program content, but the ads that are getting noticed. Political ads, to be precise. They are all over the place. And they’re making broadcasters piles of money. Ken Vogel wrote the story for Politico today. Ken, good to have you with us.

KEN VOGEL: Great to be with you, Kai.

Ryssdal: I thought the campaign was over. Who is buying these ads?

VOGEL: Well, these ads are coming from a wide variety of groups, advocacy groups, even individuals. We’ve already seen $270 million from the time that Obama was inaugurated until the end of last month. Usually in an off year, it takes until September, October to get to that level. I have experts predicting $1 billion in issue ad spending this year. That would be truly unprecedented.

Ryssdal: So much of this campaign in the fall was grassroots. Obama drummed it up and got so many supporters and other people trying to do it. Is that what is going on here as well?

VOGEL: Certainly, Barack Obama is using this vaunted e-mail list, this 13-million e-mail list that he assembled during the campaign, which is now in possession of the Democratic National Committee. They continue to use that list both to drive Obama’s agenda urging folks to call their members of Congress to support his budget, his stimulus package, but also to raise money and then air advertising. So it’s kinda a new twist on grassroots advocacy where we’re seeing it kinda merge with more traditional air-war type of campaign strategies as well.

Ryssdal: What issues are being hit? I mean there is so much that’s out there, from health care, to stimulus, to bailouts, what are they like?

VOGEL: We have health care back on the table. We have sort of energy reforms. We see some of the electric utilities advertising on so-called clean coal, where some of the environmental groups are trying to debunk the idea that there can even be clean coal. We have a lot of labor-related issues on the table from this employee free-choice act. And we have these bailouts, where companies like General Motors and Ford, they want to say, we saw an ad recently from Ford really highlighting the fact that, hey, we’re not in the same kinda boat as GM and therefore we’re more reliable. Well, that’s not really a traditional issue ad, and that’s not trying to shape policy, but what it is doing is really playing off the political issues and the sort of the public dialogue, and play around them.

Ryssdal: Is this a windfall that’s continuing for the cable companies and the broadcast networks who made so much money off political advertising back in the campaign and now they’re still raking it in?

VOGEL: It really is. Of course, we do see car dealerships and the like which did a lot of the advertising in local newspapers and on local broadcast television dialing back their advertising budgets. But I think a lot of these stations are hoping that this issue advertising can kinda fill in the gaps here.

Ryssdal: Ken Vogel, he covers money and politics for Politico. Ken, thanks a lot.

VOGEL: Thank you, Kai.

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