Most went for a war on the airwaves, consultants say, making TV stations big winners.
November 27, 2010- Anti-incumbent anger and "tea party" conservatives may have set the tone for this year's midterm elections, but it was mostly experienced political operatives — not fervent newcomers — who managed the money.
While billions of dollars were spent on campaign ads and other efforts to gin up discontent with Washington, much of the spending was handled by veteran political consultants at a few longtime media firms — many in Washington.
An analysis of campaign finance records and data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics found that 15 firms raked in more than $400 million just from the candidates, party committees and outside groups that advertised in federal elections.
"Especially when it comes to television advertising … it's dominated by a few key players and a few key firms," said Erica Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising in federal elections. "Key actors on both sides are going to go to the known quantities to place those advertisements."
Much of that money was used to purchase airtime on local television stations, the firms said, noting that media buyers typically earn a small percentage as a commission or fee.
"We had a lot of the hot races and we did very well, but the vast majority of that money — and I mean virtually all of it — is going to pay the television stations," said Jim Margolis, a partner at GMMB, a Democratic political consulting and advertising firm. "Consequently, it is a complete distortion to think in any way, shape or manner that is all income to GMMB."
The air war resembled an arms race, with both Republican and Democratic campaigns frantically pumping more money into advertising to keep up with their competitors.