The New York Times recently ran a very important story showing that opponents of health reform, mostly industry-funded groups, overwhelmed the airwaves with negative advertising against the law. The reported numbers, $235 million against health reform versus $69 for it, only show part of the picture, since the Times decided to quantify only the money spent after the bill passed in late March, 2010.
The real amount spent spreading misinformation about the law, however, is much higher. And quantifying the money is critical in understanding at least part of the reason why public opinion soured so quickly on a law that contains extremely popular provisions. In addition to the paid-advertising, healthcare industry interests and other opponents of the bill spent a great deal on direct lobbying, campaign donations, and public relations campaigns. This story, however, only concerns the ad-war that helped turn Americans against the bill.
A big, often overlooked weapon in the lobbyist playbook is the outside game. The health insurance lobby, historically, has been very keen on shaping public policy through manipulating opinion. The industry spent $30 million on television advertising in 1993 to pull down the popularity of President Clinton’ health proposals. A series of leaked memos also showed that in 2007, the lobbying association for the industry concocted a political strategy, including ads, paid-bloggers, and think tanks, to undermine Michael Moore’s movie “SiCKO.”
By our calculation, based on media reports of advertising buys in 2009 and 2010, opponents of health reform spent about $88.75 million on television and radio advertisements against the legislation before its enactment. This number excludes the tens of millions spent on neutral ads that simply called for “bipartisan” reforms or for reforms that included industry input.
Added together with the New York Times’ figures, that brings a total on negative health reform-related advertising to $323.75 million.
To place this number in context, opponents of health reform spent more on advertising than President Obama spent during his first presidential campaign in 2008 ($310 million), and almost two and a half times what John McCain spent that same year ($136 million).
Republic Report compiled news clips of media buys between 2009 and March, 2010, below:
— Starting in March 2009, Rick Scott’s Conservatives for Patients’ Rights raised $20 million for anti-health reform advertisements.
— In May 2009, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.7 million on anti-health reform ads.
— In July 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce started a multimillion dollar ad campaign targeting three dozen states, along with a bus tour, and grassroots advocacy effort against health reform. No one knows how much the Chamber spent for its initial round of television and radio ads, but the first week cost $2 million, according to reports. (Note the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads were secretly funded using health insurance industry money.)
— In August 2009, Club for Growth ran $1.2 million in anti-health reform ads, Independent Women’s Forum spent $2 million, and the 60 Plus Association spent $1.5 million. The Family Research Council also launched an ad against the bill that month as part of a $500,000 television campaign against reform.
— In August 2009, the Republican National Committee spent about $1 million in broad anti-health reform ads in Democratic congressional districts.
— In September 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent “7 million or more” on an ad attacking health reform.
— In July 2009, Patients United (part of the Koch-controlled Americans for Prosperity Foundation) spent $3 million in anti-health reform ads.
— In a thirty day period between October and November 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million on anti-health reform ads.
— In November 2009, the Employment Policies Institute, a front managed by the lobbyist Rick Berman, launched a $10 million television attack ad campaign against the health reform bill. That same month, the 60 Plus Association announced another $1.5 million ad campaign against the bill.
— In December 2009, a group called “Keeping Small Business Health” ran $1 million in anti-health reform ads.
— In January 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies, including the “Campaign for Responsible Health Reform,” spent $700,000 on anti-health reform ads in Massachusetts to support Scott Brown’s bid for a Senate seat.
— In February 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $900,000 on anti-health reform ads in Arkansas alone. The Chamber, using insurance industry money, hoped to influence then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-AR) vote. The 60 Plus Association aired $500,000 in anti-health reform ads this month as well.
— In March 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce purchased up to $10 million in anti-health reform ads as the law approached a final vote. Americans for Prosperity also aired $250,000 worth of ads before the vote in March.
Filed under: Media Integrity