By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
Add KEYC-TV to the list of election winners, along with Minnesota Democrats, President Barack Obama and constitutional amendment opponents.
More than $900,000 in election ads were aired on the North Mankato CBS station and its Fox sister station during the 2012 election cycle.
"Better than I expected," said station Vice President and General Manager Denny Wahlstrom.
Earlier in the fall, Wahlstrom was predicting a nice revenue boost from the campaigning but not as much as might have been if Minnesota had been a swing state in the presidential election, if U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar had a strong challenger, and if Congressman Tim Walz's re-election bid had attracted outside spending as it had in 2008 and 2010.
What partially made up for those less-spendy races was the two constitutional amendment questions on the ballot -- one of which would have added voting restrictions and another that would have constitutionally reinforced Minnesota's ban on gay marriage.
"The campaign season actually ended up pretty strong, primarily due to the amendment issues," Wahlstrom said.
Minnesotans United for All Families, which successfully rallied opposition to the marriage amendment, bought $173,000 in campaign ads from KEYC and Fox Mankato. The pro-amendment group Minnesota for Marriage spent $107,000.
So the marriage amendment ad war brought nearly triple the revenue to the local station than the spending on the U.S. Senate and 1st District congressional races combined.
Television advertising on the voting amendment, which would have required photo IDs for voters and changed the way absentee balloting and Election Day registration is handled in Minnesota, was less lucrative for KEYC.
Still, the anti-voter ID amendment group Our Vote Our Future spent $44,090 on local broadcast TV ads -- including an ad featuring Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson explaining why they agreed the amendment should be defeated. The pro-voter ID group Protect My Vote spent $14,000 in advertising on KEYC.
Klobuchar, who won 65 percent of the vote in her first re-election bid, spent $32,000 on ads from the station despite the low-budget campaign by Republican challenger Kurt Bills, who didn't raise enough money to run any campaign ads.
In the congressional race, Republican challenger Allen Quist of St. Peter outspent Walz in the local TV market -- $37,910 to $29,385. Quist, a retired farmer who largely self-financed his campaign, started running ads much earlier than Walz as he fended off fellow Republican Mike Parry of Waseca in the Republican primary election in August.
Walz defeated Quist by 15 percentage points in the general election, winning a fourth term in the U.S. House.
The big race
The winning Obama campaign largely ignored the Mankato TV market, spending just less than $9,000 for KEYC ads -- all in the final four days of the campaign. Republican nominee Mitt Romney's campaign didn't buy any local ads, but outside groups supporting Romney were the biggest boons to KEYC's books.
The local station didn't get a piece of the biggest pie available to TV ad sellers -- American Crossroads, a conservative organization that spent $195 million in independent expenditures in the 2012 campaign -- mainly attacking Obama. But KEYC did get nearly $22,000 in ad revenue from Restore Our Future, another conservative organization that was second nationally in campaign expenditures by outside groups.
Restore our Future, which got most of its donations from business and financial sectors, spent $88.6 million nationwide against Obama after spending $40 million against Romney's chief primary opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The group also bought $14 million in pro-Romney ads.
Locally, the group aired 104 ads on KEYC and 12 on Fox Mankato in the final week of the campaign as the Romney campaign suggested Minnesota might be willing to vote for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1972.
"He did make a play for Minnesota late," Wahlstrom said. Ultimately, Obama won the state by 8 percentage points.
The biggest buyer of KEYC ads was just ninth on the national independent-expenditure list. The American Future Fund, an Iowa-based 501(c) organization that can raise unlimited amounts and doesn't have to disclose its donors, reportedly received some of its money from "The Center to Protect Patient Rights," which media reports have tied to Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch.
The Kochs, both billionaires, also founded Americans for Prosperity, another conservative campaign-ad machine that was fourth on the national list, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The American Future Fund spent nearly $190,000 to air ads 764 times on KEYC between Sept. 27 and Nov. 6. Americans for Prosperity, which ran 809 ads on the station, paid a bit less -- $168,000 Ñ by purchasing lower cost ad slots in July and August for Obama attack ads.
One batch of political spending in the current election cycle came in June and July of 2011 when Obama and the Republican-controlled House were battling over raising the federal debt ceiling. A conservative political action committee called Concerned Women of America Legislative Action Committee purchased 179 ads on KEYC for $67,000.
The summer of 2011 also brought 103 KEYC ads from the Coalition for American Jobs, which ran ads accusing Obama of "talking jobs" on a tour of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois while putting jobs at risk through tougher clean-air regulations. An investigation by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reported that the coalition was actually a front group for chemical and oil lobbies.
Priorities USA Action, the biggest-spending liberal super PAC in the 2012 campaign, spent $78 million nationally, exclusively on Romney attack ads. But the organization -- funded in part with big donations by wealthy donors from media and computer industries, trial lawyers and unions -- didn't send a single dollar of its TV ad purchasing to Mankato.