While Wisconsinites may have muted their TVs anytime a commercial for Gov. Scott Walker or recall challenger Tom Barrett was aired this spring, local television stations were enjoying an influx of money from these political advertisements.
The first sign of the rush came at the end of November 2011, when Walker began running ads against the recall. According to records from WMSN (Fox), WISC (CBS), WMTV (NBC), and WKOW (ABC), the Friends of Scott Walker spent more than $85,000 in the Madison market between late November and early December.
According to WISC general sales manager Steve Scadden, this helped the station plan for more recall advertising income in their 2012 budget. He said the election itself came earlier than anticipated, but the amount of income they projected to receive from political spots was "in the ballpark" of what the station actually saw over the months preceding the June 5 election.
The other three stations did not return calls requesting comment.
Stations do not release their advertising income figures, but they are required by law to release some political advertising numbers. While that makes it hard to compare to years without a recall election, the advertising at a time when the airwaves are normally free of political posturing was certainly a boon to stations' finances.
In total, the candidates -- including Walker, Barrett, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, her challenger Mahlon Mitchell, and other candidates during the Democratic primary -- as well as political action committees (PAC) supporting them, spent over $4.5 million on commercials at the four local stations over the recall campaign season.
The biggest beneficiary was WISC, which took in over $1.6 million. Of that, the single largest advertiser was the Walker for Governor campaign, which spent more than $350,000 for spots on the network.
Kathleen Falk, who finished second in the Democratic primary on May 8, and her supporting PAC, made the most of her short time in the race, spending over $300,000 on WISC spots alone. In total, she spent more than $850,000 in April and early May at all four Madison stations.
The highest spending PAC in the market was the Right Direction for Wisconsin PAC, which spent over $760,000 on spots opposing Barrett.
Barrett's campaign spent approximately $470,000 among the networks after entering the race in late March.
In the end, Walker successfully defended his seat, winning the election by six points. To help make that happen, his campaign spent just under $1.2 million on the four Madison stations.
Overall, Republican candidates and PACs supporting them spent just under $3 million on Madison stations to support Walker and Kleefisch, while Democrats and PACs on their side spent just over $1.6 million to oppose them.
PACs on both sides spent over $2.6 million, compared to approximately $1.84 million by the candidate's campaigns, leaving the groups not directly affiliated with candidates with a bigger stamp on the airwaves.