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Feb 29 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Going Negative


This year’s elections are shaping up to be some of the nastiest we’ve seen in recent history. If you haven’t already been swamped by a barrage of negative ad campaigns, prepare yourself. It’s going to get worse, especially here in Wisconsin.

Both Dems and Republicans are targeting Wisconsin. Recall campaign spending and then November election spending will be in the tens of millions.

President Obama’s campaign recently purchased a significant television ad buy. It was limited to six battleground states: Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Of Obama’s top ten ad target markets, four of them were in Wisconsin: Green Bay, Madison, Wausau, and La Crosse, which just edged out Toledo for the number of spots aired. The Milwaukee ad buy was number fourteen on the list.


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Obama campaign was buying in the same markets as the conservative (and Koch-brothers supported) group, Americans for Prosperity.

In 2008, Wisconsin ranked sixth among battlegrounds in TV money, and in 2004, it ranked fourth.

“Obviously, Wisconsin is an important state both electorally and policy-wise,” Gillian Morris, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin, told the Journal Sentinel.

While negative advertisements have seemingly become a permanent facet of our election cycle, this year will see the largest amount of money ever spent on negative ads. It will probably surpass $3 billion.

The 2012 Presidential election is the first under which “money as free speech” has been given free rein in political campaigns, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. In its 5-to-4 vote, the court allowed unlimited political spending by corporations, unions, and other special interest groups so long as they maintain the fiction that they are not coordinating their efforts with the candidates.

And the spending is adding up. Pro-Republican super PACs have raised a combined $64 million dollars already, and wealthy donors are willing to spend hundreds of millions more. The vast majority of that money is being funneled into negative ad campaigns, with a 57 percent increase in spending compared to the 2008 elections. Profits from negative ads have become so staggering that Bill Wheatley, former executive vice president of NBC News, likens operating a television station in an election battleground state to winning the lottery.

Committees and campaigns put out negative ads because they work. There used to be at least one deterrent: A candidate might not go too negative for fear it could damage his own reputation. Now, however, super PACs such as Restore Our Future, Winning Our Future, and Strong America can take the blame for any negative feedback, instead of the candidates themselves. “Organizations with meaningless names, no membership, no accountability, and no concern about their reputation are controlling Republican primaries with vast amounts of money,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “There’s nothing to restrain them from going negative.”

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