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How Parties Communicate Without Coordinating

Israel is the DCCC's chairman. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Israel is the DCCC's chairman. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Party campaign committees and outside groups aren’t allowed to coordinate, but as they outline their fall television ad strategies, interested groups are doing a very public dance to ensure they don’t step on each others’ toes and waste money duplicating efforts.  

Now we have some specific examples of districts where this collaboration is taking place. As I wrote in April , releasing ad reservation plans is more than just getting a quick-hit story in a national publication.

Not too many cycles ago, political reporters rightly handled television ad reservations loosely and delicately as strategists from both parties used them to play games. Strategists would make some reservations with little or no intent to fulfill them in order to fake out the other party, the media or both.

But that was also a time when the party campaign committees (through their independent expenditure arms) dominated outside spending in races. Now, outside spending from non-party groups has increased, and party strategists can’t afford to pull in and out of competitive races or abruptly shift advertising plans because television spending strategies are more integrated.

For example, on May 26, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm announced it’s intention to reserve weeks six through eight and weeks one and two on broadcast television in the St. Louis media market, which is likely to be used for a race in Illinois’ 12th District.  

(Remember that in campaign speak, weeks are numbered backward starting with Election Day . So the last week before the election is actually week one.)  

Strategists at House Majority PAC, the go-to outside group for House races on the Democratic side, saw the hole in weeks three through five and, on June 18, reserved broadcast and cable time for St. Louis during that time. Then on June 27, the DCCC confirmed its initial reservation plans.  

Now Democrats have ensured that they have airtime in St. Louis for virtually all of September, October and early November without unnecessary overlapping of time.  

That’s just one example of how groups work together without coordinating.  

On May 29, the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm announced its intention to buy cable advertising for weeks five through eight and both broadcast and cable advertising for weeks one and two in the Sacramento media market for California’s 7th District. On June 16, HMP reserved broadcast and cable time in the market for weeks three and four that were previously accounted for. Then on June 23, the DCCC confirmed its initial plan.  

It’s basically the same story in West Virginia’s 3rd District. On June 1, the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm reserved broadcast time in both the Bluefield-Beckley and Charleston-Huntington markets for weeks seven through nine and weeks one and two. On June 17, HMP reserved weeks three through six to fill the gap.  

And in Georgia’s 12th District, the DCCC reserved broadcast and cable time in both the Savannah and Augusta media markets for weeks five through 10, leaving open the final month of the campaign. But five days later, HMP bought weeks one through four.  

It’s worth noting that just because a campaign committee or PAC “announces” ad reservations, doesn’t mean that the reservations have actually been placed.  

For example, the DCCC’s reservation plans for West Virginia’s 3rd District and Georgia’s 12th District were announced on May 29, but the actual time wasn’t reserved at the local stations until days later.  

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s I.E. arm announced on June 17 its intention to reserve $30 million in television advertising in 28 districts but, according to multiple sources, the committee has yet to actually reserve the time with local stations.  

Announcing intentions through the press is one way that party strategists communicate. The other way is to make the reservation with local television stations. That information is public (just not always easily accessible), and media buyers from interested groups on both sides of the aisle are checking local stations on a daily basis for new ad buy information.  

“Either way is effective to share with friends,” according to one party source.

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