Think Tank Express: Rauner’s Super PAC-MEN chomps up spots

Uncle Bruce will “fix everything” with campaign ads. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Illinois broadcasters take the quick cash. But are they driving viewers away from live TV?

If you thought 2015 would be free of political advertising – think again.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner – you know, the one who headed GTCR – the investment firm who funded Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media, and Sam Zell – the one who destroyed the Chicago Tribune – and helped Randy Michaels to do so (notice a common theme here?) launched a Super PAC called Turnaround Illinois to buy ad time to attack Illinois House Speaker Michael madigan and House Speaker John Cullerton, who like Zell and Michaels did with the Tribune, screwed up the state finances.

As you know (or more than likely not), the state is embroiled in one of the biggest budget gridlocks in its history. I won’t explain further, since this is a media blog and not a political one. But buying TV time to explain your side in a political standoff where the public doesn’t have a vote – is bizarre.

The ad (which you can view here), began Tuesday. According to the Champaign News-Gazette, Turnaround Illinois bought local avails on CNN and Fox News in the Champaign-Springfield-Decatur market (DMA 85) and 62 spots on CBS affiliate WCIA – mostly in news shows, but also entertainment programming, such as The Price Is Right and NCIS.

Another downstate CBS affiliate (Peoria’s WMBD) received money for 72 spots, mostly in news shows and CBS’ procedural shows. In the same market, 13 spots were bought on Fox affiliate WYZZ, including its 9 p.m. newscast, The Big Bang Theory, and sports.

In Chicago, two spots ran on WLS-TV Tuesday night – once after the NBA Finals and another during the station’s late newscast.

Rauner’s strategy seems to be targeting news programs, CBS prime-time fare, and older-skewing syndicated programming such as Wheel of Fortune, Dr. Phil, and Jeopardy! where potential voters are watching. It appears Rauner is avoiding younger-skewing fare, such as TMZ, Dish Nation, The Real, and practically anything on The CW, and heavily DVR-ed shows.

But will it work? The ad buy seems like a waste of money, since elections aren’t for over a year and voters are powerless to do anything. And this stunt could backfire on Rauner and local stations, given viewers hate political ads and just drive more viewers to their DVRs and to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon- something the TV industry should be concerned about.

But the state’s broadcasters are more than happy to take Turnaround Illinois’ money – despite the long-term consequences.

And here’s the rub: if Rauner’s PAC had those commercials ready a day earlier, he could have scored a huge coup by buying a spot or two during the highly-rated Game six of the Stanley Cup Final, or WMAQ’s newscast afterwards.


It’s kind of scary two men like Rauner and Zell are being counted on to fix state government when one funded the fiasco that was FM News 101 and the other sending the Tribune into bankruptcy. Then again, we had a forty-year head start on the state’s financial problems thanks to Madigan and Cullerton, so why not add two more morons into the mix?

These four actually makes Randy Michaels look like a rocket scientist.