This year, as states elect 12 governors, fill scores of other offices and several thousand legislative seats, television ad spending on state races has outpaced the last comparable election at this point, even when adjusted for inflation. The more than $148 million spent so far this year dwarfs the $83 million spent in the same period in 2012, according to data from media tracker Kantar Media/CMAG.
The heated governors’ races account for more than half of all state political advertising this year. And independent groups are playing a larger role, sponsoring 23 percent of all ads in 2016, compared with 18 percent in 2012.
Seven of the 12 gubernatorial races this year are open races with no incumbent candidates, and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has classified five of those as toss-ups: Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire,Vermont and West Virginia. That’s in contrast to 2012, when the center classified only three states as a toss-up at this point.
The Democratic Governors Association and its Republican counterpart are typically the largest national drivers of spending in state races, and that’s no different this year.
The groups can accept unlimited donations and annually count numerous pharmaceutical companies, insurers and major corporations among their top donors. The biggest contributors to the Republican group this year also include Koch Industries Inc. and hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Ken Griffin, while labor groups are among other top donors to the Democratic group.
\Because the groups are regulated by the IRS and don’t typically file state-specific reports, it’s difficult to tie donations the groups receive to ads in specific states.
And sometimes they don’t include their national namesin their campaigns, instead using state-specific ones that obscure their national and partisan ties, such as in Vermont. In total, the associations and the groups that they’ve backed have spent more than $8 million already just on TV ads.