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WASHINGTON (AP) — Candidates running for offices in statehouses from Alaska to Florida — and their allies — have spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars on television ads so far this cycle. And the bulk of the political ads are yet to come, according to a survey released Wednesday.
If the ads that have already aired were to run back-to-back, they would stretch on for 195 days.
The heavy spending on state-level races — almost $283 million and counting — tops what candidates and their deep-pocketed friends are paying for ads in U.S. Senate races, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. The group puts Senate-specific television spending at $196 million.
Even so, spending on state ads is actually down by roughly a third of what it was in 2010, the first year in which outside groups and super PACs could raise and spend unlimited cash to influence races. Many of the governors elected in that year are seeking re-election and their challengers have not found backers with deep pockets.
Yet, direct spending by candidates outpaces outside groups by an average of a 4-1 margin nationally. There are great disparities. For instance, candidates make up only $2.6 million of the $33.7 million spent on state-level ads in Florida.
The heavy level of spending — and patrons' interest in the contenders — underscores just how much state officials can quickly and dramatically reshape policy. For instance, decisions made in statehouses determine which road projects are funded, where tax rates fall and how generously to pay state employees' pensions.
Voters will elect more than 6,300 of those officials this fall.
"The states are a relative bargain compared to what's happening at the federal level," said John Dunbar, a deputy executive editor of the Center for Public Integrity.
The most expensive state is Pennsylvania, where voters have faced almost $38 million in state-level ads. The vast majority of that has been in the governor's race, which featured a competitive Democratic primary that saw spending spike to as much as $4 million a week.
Kitchen cabinet magnate and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf bought $11 million worth of those ads, drawing some of that from his personal fortune.
An estimated 56,000 ads have aired on Pennsylvania televisions about state-level candidates. But the busiest airwaves have been Florida's, where 68,300 ads have run for state candidates.
The top spender so far is the Republican Governors Association, which has aired $11.4 million in ads. The conservative Let's Get to Work committee working in Florida races has spent $10.8 million. The Democratic Governors Association has spent $5.1 million.
The consequences of November's elections extend well beyond their terms. Most of the governors elected this year will oversee states during the 2016 presidential campaign, and voter-picked elections chiefs will have tremendous impact over polling locations and rules, too.
Republicans occupy the governor's office in 29 states. Democrats hold 21.
The GOP currently controls 60 statehouse chambers nationwide, and House and Senate chambers in 28 states compared with Democrats' 17 states. Four states have split statehouses and Nebraska's Legislature is nonpartisan.
The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in all of the country's 210 media markets. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 8, 2014.
These figures only represent part of the money spent on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, as well television ads on local cable systems or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads can be significantly higher.
Campaign finance data rarely, if ever, presents a hard total for all spending. A total like that usually is not available for months or sometimes years after the fact, and still is likely to miss some money.
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