Editor's note: This election cycle, Westword is exploring the public records of television stations for information on how candidates are spending money on ads in Denver.
So far, Barack Obama's campaign is spending more money than Mitt Romney's on Denver TV ads. A lot more.
We know this because we visited a handful of the local TV stations, asked to see the "public inspection files" -- which, you know, must be available to the public -- and spent time leafing through recent records in their cabinets. Quick background, if you're curious: The reason why we have to go in person to get these files is because, while these stations are required to keep a public log of the political advertising that they air, they are not, at the moment, under any obligation to put that information online.
The Columbia Journalism Review, which has dispatched correspondents across the country for its Swing States Project, has written about this problem and reached out to Westword to encourage us to visit the local stations and crunch some numbers. So we did, and the results were very clear when it comes to the presidential race: At this stage in the game, Obama's forces are spending a great deal more money on TV ads in the Denver metro area than Romney's.
It is important to note that it's relatively early in the campaign season and we can likely expect more ad blitzes from both sides in the future, especially given Colorado's status as an important swing state.
We started last week at 9NEWS (KUSA), which, according to records at several stations, generally sells the greatest share of political ads out of the local stations.
On file at KUSA last Friday were six ad orders from Obama for President -- which amounted to 760 spots total, costing $1,212,850. We got those numbers by sifting through the contracts on file for Obama, each of which has a time frame for the ads, a total number of spots, and a total cost. Of those six orders, the earliest dates back to April 8th, and the latest runs until July 2nd.
Let's compare that with Romney spending at KUSA.
The Republican candidate -- who only officially launched his Colorado campaign office last Saturday -- had only two orders on file as of last Friday, and predictably, they cost his campaign much less.
Those two Romney for President orders, covering June 6th to the 19th, totaled 256 spots, costing $277,750. Some basic math ($1,212,850 / $277,750) shows us that at KUSA, Obama's team thus far has spent about four times as much as the Romney team.
Worth noting: According to KUSA's estimates included in the public documents, these political ad buys typically represent around 40 percent of the market share, which is consistently the highest percentage compared to the other local stations. In other words, the presidential campaigns are spending the most money in Denver on ads at KUSA.
What does the disparity mean?
When contacted by Westword about these numbers, Romney's campaign said the ad spending is a sign that Obama is concerned about keeping voters in Colorado, which he won in 2008. A local spokesperson sent us a statement from Sarah Pompei, deputy communications director for Romney's campaign:
Clearly the people of Colorado are frustrated there hasn't been more progress made on the promises President Obama made right here in Colorado four years ago, which is why the President's campaign is already running ads in a state he handily won in 2008. Voters are looking for a new direction and only Governor Romney has the record and experience to turn our economy around and get people working again.
Obama's Colorado campaign team took our inquiry as an opportunity to send us a statement bashing Romney (in a Colorado-specific way!):
Coloradans stand with President Obama who believes we need to invest in education, energy, innovation and infrastructure and reform our tax system to create good jobs, grow our economy and pay down the debt in a balanced way. Mitt Romney stands on the wrong side of every issue important in Colorado. He believes we need more budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest and fewer rules for Wall Street -- the same failed formula that benefitted a few, but crashed our economy and hurt the middle class.
Page down to see more of our number-crunching at two other stations where Obama also trumped Romney in ad spending. Over at Fox31 (KDVR) and CW Channel 2 (KWGN), which are partners and are located in the same building down the street from KUSA -- the story was essentially the same.
Westword visited this office for a bit on Friday, and again on Monday to do a final count. We found that at Fox31, Obama's campaign placed seven different ad orders, which together cost $328,025 and accounted for 558 spots. The approach seems to correspond to market share, which is lower at KDVR than KUSA; it fluctuates between 9 and 14 percent, the documents say.
Compare this spending to the ads put in at KDVR from Romney's team, which only had two orders on file as of Monday. Those two contracts, which cover June 12th to the 26th (and which had not made it into the file cabinets when we visited last week), total $14,600 and 43 spots.
At the file cabinet to the left (in a room on the ground floor with the public records), KWGN records show that Obama's campaign has spent a total of $89,525 over seven orders, totaling 270 spots. These ads span May and June.
Compare that to Romney's spending at KWGN thus far: Zero.
If you really love this stuff, we've included a clean summary from our notes here for each station and campaign. Below you'll find the contract dates for each order, followed by the total number of spots, and the total gross amount. Have fun!
Romney for President
6/12-6/19: 182 spots, $196,550
6/8-6/12: 74 spots, $81,200
Obama for President
6/6-6/18: 91 spots, $236,800
6/12-7/02: 239 spots, $273,500
6/9-6/22: 50 spots, $62,750
5/22-6/4: 11 spots, $38,300
5/8-6/4: 77 spots, $219,250
5/8-6/4: 292 spots, $382,250
6/20-6/26: 19 spots, $6,800
6/12-6/19: 24 spots, $7,800
6/16-6/25: 17 spots, $11,025
6/12-7/2: 126 spots, $70,850
6/9-6/18: 41 spots, $15,550
6/5-6/18: 66 spots, $54,500
5/22-6/4: 12 spots, $14,000
5/8-6/4: 191 spots, $109,350
5/8-6/4: 105 spots, $52,750
6/16-6/25: 3 spots, $600
6/13-7/2: 56 spots, $11,825
6/9-6/18: 11 spots, $2,375
6/5-6/18: 33 spots, $13,300
5/22-6/4: 6 spots, $2,600
5/8-6/4: 136 spots, $40,275
5/8-6/4: 25 spots, $18,550
More from our Politics archive: "Gary Johnson, Libertarian presidential hopeful, on pot, pride and Jon Stewart"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.