Spending on ads focused on impeachment soars

Spending on television ads that focus on impeachment has nearly tripled in the last two months, a sign of how much the fast-moving impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill is seeping into the political debate ahead of the 2020 elections.

With the biggest spenders on opposing sides, the numbers are an early indication of how the battle over impeachment could resonate beyond Washington.

Roughly 20% of all the money spent on political advertising in federal races since Sept. 19 makes reference to the impeachment inquiry, according to a CNN tally of advertising tracked by Kantar’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. That’s up from roughly 6% of advertising that aired between Jan. 1 and Sept. 18, when news first emerged of a whistleblower complaint alleging President Donald Trump sought to extract a promise from a foreign leader.

The complaint triggered the ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House, which included high-profile hearings this week before the House intelligence panel.

Facebook advertising on the topic also has soared, with more than $5.6 million spent on impeachment-related ads between mid-September through the end of last week, according to a CNN tally of Facebook data compiled by Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic firm.

The two biggest advertisers so far: Trump, the target of the impeachment inquiry, and Tom Steyer, the Democratic presidential contender who has made impeachment the focus of his political activism.

Steyer, for instance, has spent an estimated $4.7 million on TV ads that mention impeachment since Sept. 19; Trump, $4.4 million. Their ads currently are running on national cable, national networks television as well as local television.

A current Trump TV spot argues that Democrats are seeking to “overturn the election” by pursuing the impeachment inquiry.

The totals will only grow in the weeks ahead. The American Action Network, one of a cluster of central-right groups tied to House Republicans, this week announced a $7 million advertising blitz targeting 37 House Democrats and calling impeachment a “politically motivated charade.”

The ads slam Democrats, many of whom hail from districts Trump won in 2016, as promising to be “different” but instead aligning with national Democratic figures to focus on impeachment rather than other legislative priorities, such as trade.

“Republicans want to use impeachment as a weapon against Democrats,” said Kyle Kondik, who analyzes politics at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The whole battle over impeachment is part of a Republican pitch to try to make the presidential elections more of a choice next year as opposed to a referendum on the president.”

Last week, Trump led spending on impeachment-related Facebook ads, Bully Pulpit’s data shows.

A current Facebook ad from Trump offers donors who contribute $35 “personalized impeachment defense membership cards.”

Trump campaign aides say the impeachment inquiry has been a fundraising boon, bringing in $3 million online the day the House voted to formally launch the inquiry.

The impeachment-related advertising has featured a cameo by an unusual source: Penzeys Spices, a Wisconsin-based company that has spent more than $725,000 on ads calling for Trump’s impeachment.

CEO Bill Penzey has a reputation for using his brand’s platforms to advance his liberal views, and his Facebook ads offer a mix of product promotion and denunciations of Trump and Republicans.

A recent Penzeys ad, for instance, touted the company’s “Choose Love Gift Boxes” and also charged that the GOP has been “overtaken by corruption and cruelty.”

In an interview with CNN, Penzey said his ads reflect his customers’ values.

“For us, what cooking is like caring about people,” he said. “This whole idea of carrying about people and refugees and kids being imprisoned and the environment and schools are really important to the type of people who cook.”

He said there’s been some backlash but says he’s gaining more customers than he loses.

“Speaking up for people who are marginalized causes some people to quit us,” he said. “But we have really good spices, so they come back.”