Federal Communications Commission filings show two wealthy “political outsiders” lead television ad spending in the Republican gubernatorial primary contest, providing a snapshot of what has become an expensive race.
Since May, Jackson resident Foster Friess’ campaign has spent at least $550,000 on local television advertising statewide and cable spots in the Denver and Cheyenne markets. He is followed by the campaign of Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos, who has spent at least $325,000 in the same markets. State treasurer Mark Gordon’s campaign has spent at least $182,000. Harriet Hageman’s campaign has spent less on television advertisements thus far, but filings and an interview with the campaign indicate she could narrow the gap soon. WyoFile found no record of ad buys by Dr. Taylor Haynes or Sheridan businessman Bill Dahlin.
WyoFile compiled the numbers from reports required by and filed with the FCC for TV markets that serve Wyoming, but was not able to capture spending across all television sectors. Only two local television markets are based in Wyoming cities — those for Casper and Cheyenne. Campaigns have also purchased advertisements with TV stations in Salt Lake City, Billings, Montana and Rapid City, South Dakota, hoping to reach Wyoming voters served by those markets.
Television ads are one front of the arms race for would-be governors. Campaigns also invest in digital marketing, print newspaper advertisements, social media promotion and traditional mailers and brochures. So it’s certain the campaigns have spent more than what is revealed by the FCC filings for television.
A more complete picture of campaign spending will emerge in mid-August, when candidates are required to publicly disclose the money they have spent during the primary. Those filings also will indicate where the money campaigns have been spending came from. Currently only limited public information about donations exists.
But TV spending alone shows this is shaping up to be an expensive Republican primary contest. In 2010, the last time there was an open seat in the governor’s mansion, then-candidate Matt Mead paid $308,390 to Cheyenne-based marketing firm Warehouse Twenty One for television ads, according to his primary expenditures report.
Mead was the biggest spender on television ads in the primary that year. With a month to go before election day, Friess and Galeotos already have outstripped him.
Mead spent $1.39 million on winning the 2010 primary campaign, according to the report.
Some candidates defended big expenditures as the necessary cost of introducing a political outsider to the electorate or simply the cost of becoming the governor they think Wyoming needs. Others accuse well-heeled opponents of trying to buy the race while laying claim to the title of grassroots champion. The choice of spin depends on how much a campaign has spent.
In May, Friess told a Cheyenne gathering he would spend “whatever it takes” to win the governor’s seat, according to a report in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. He predicted at the time that he might spend around $4 million.
During a July 4th interview with WyoFile, he dismissed accusations that he would try to “buy the race,” joking that he’s been offering $15 a vote all over Wyoming and finding no takers. Friess views running for governor to be a form of volunteerism or public service, he said, equivalent to his prolific charitable giving over the years.
“I have been blessed with enormous wealth and contacts and so,” he said, “to whom much is given much is expected. It’s a thrill to be able to serve in this way at a time when the state so desperately needs an outsider.” Friess contends Wyoming needs someone new to the state’s politics to give a fresh eye to the budget and eliminate wasteful spending.
Galeotos said he was willing to spend the money necessary to get his message to voters. As a political outsider, he needed advertising to overcome a name-recognition gap with more established candidates, he said.
“I’m not in just to be in it. I’m in it to win,” Galeotos told WyoFile. “I viewed a severe impediment was a lack of people knowing who I was and what I was about. I wanted people to know who I was.”
Political observers predicted name recognition would be a challenge for Galeotos when he entered the race, a move he made relatively late. Though his name was bandied about as a possible campaign entrant much earlier, Galeotos did not announce his candidacy until late March.
“When you’re competing against people who have been entrenched [in politics],” Galeotos said, “you kind of start out in a hole.”
His campaign took to the airwaves earlier and more aggressively than its opponents, according to the FCC filings for local television and Cheyenne and Denver cable.
Galeotos’ was the only campaign to spend money in those markets in April, spending at least $7,250 in Cheyenne and $3,535 in Casper. In those cities his campaign well outstripped its opponents in May as well, spending a little more than $75,000. Gordon’s campaign caught up in June, while at that time the Friess campaign started significantly outspending both candidates.
“Most of my efforts have been to get out there and let people know the name,” Galeotos said. “It’s kind of a complicated name.”
Galeotos’ campaign has joked about name recognition in his sharply produced video ads, one of which portrays him eavesdropping on diners in a restaurant as they struggle to get his moniker right. “Galapagos?” one fictional diner asks.
Polling suggests that either Galeotos’ name recognition was underestimated or his television investments have paid off. A poll conducted by Wyoming Public Media and Wyoming Public Television from June 18-20 had Galeotos slightly ahead of Gordon with 70 percent name recognition to Gordon’s 69 percent, Hageman’s 62 percent and Friess’ 57 percent.
“We started nowhere and we’ve gotten somewhere,” Galeotos said.
In June, the Friess campaign doubled the spending of its opponents on television in Cheyenne and Casper, and spent tens of thousands of dollars on local television in Billings and Rapid City. Records for July show that disparity in spending is likely to continue throughout that month.
The Gordon campaign knew it might be outgunned with two very wealthy opponents in the race, communications director Kristin Walker said. “Our campaign knew early on we would be outspent,” she wrote to WyoFile. “There is no question Sam and Foster are trying to buy this race, but Mark sees this campaign as applying for a job.”
Citing volunteer turnout and touting campaign chairmen in every county, Walker called Gordon’s campaign organization the most “robust” in the state. In Wyoming politics that will ultimately outstrip heavy spending, she said. “In a Wyoming campaign, that kind of ground game is priceless — and you can’t buy it,” she wrote.
Still, the Gordon campaign is spending money on television. It matched Galeotos’ campaign in TV spending for June, but appears behind by about $50,000 in July.
“Mark is committed to running a robust campaign where he can connect with voters across a variety of mediums,” Walker wrote. “Be it TV, radio, newspaper, digital, direct mail, door-to-door and meeting one-on-one with as many Wyoming citizens as possible.”
Hageman narrowly earned a primetime spot in Wyoming Public Media and Wyoming Public Television’s July 12 debate. She made the top half of the six primary candidates when poll respondents were asked who they’d most like to see, but was a full ten percentage points behind Galeotos and Gordon and only four percentage points above Dr. Taylor Haynes, who placed fourth.
Compared to Gordon, Friess and Galeotos, she has spent little on television ads. Hageman’s communications director said that was what set them apart.
“It just shows us that Harriet’s campaign is a true grassroots campaign that is based on a two-way conversation,” Trinity Lewis said. “While others may seek to buy the election, Harriet seeks to win on policy.”
But, Lewis said, expect to see the Hageman campaign spend more on more traditional ads in coming weeks. The campaign had its best fundraising week yet following the debate, Lewis said, raising close to $400,000. “We’re not even an inch behind anyone because we didn’t buy TV early on,” Lewis said.
Speaking to WyoFile on the road to Ten Sleep on Friday evening with her candidate, Lewis claimed that Hageman was “the only candidate that is really pounding the pavement.” She joked that their campaign vehicle has gone through two sets of tires.
But in a state where former Gov. Ed Herschler memorably said he wished antelope could vote because that’s most of what he’s been seeing on the campaign trail, Hageman is far from alone on the road.
“Retail politics is absolutely critical in Wyoming,” Walker wrote. “Voters are used to it and they expect it from their candidates.” Gordon has also been “logging thousands of miles in his car, crisscrossing the state and meeting one-on-one with Wyoming citizens.”
On the same Friday evening Hageman was heading toward Ten Sleep, a town with a population of around 250, Galeotos was leaving an event in Cheyenne to drive toward southeastern Wyoming for an early Saturday morning parade in Lyman, population roughly 2,000. He had spent part of that Friday in Casper.
“All I’m doing is windshield time,” he said. Galeotos often travels with a campaign staffer or with family members, he said. He’s made all-night drives and gained new appreciations for how some routes across the state appear at dusk or dawn. Veterans of past Wyoming campaigns warned him about weariness on the road, he said.
“That’s something a lot of people told me right up front is don’t try to drive it all by yourself,” he said.
Gordon, Haynes and Dahlin have all been attending events across the state. So has Friess, but in this area his wealth gives him one glaring advantage, though not every candidate sees it as such.
On July 4, Friess disembarked a privately-owned plane at Hunt Field Airport in Lander. A staffer waited to drive him to a barbecue held in Lander City Park, where other candidates were already working the crowd. Friess had spent the morning marching in a parade in Gillette. Following the barbecue in Lander he flew to Cody.
Flight records show the plane — owned by the Friesses and several other Teton County residents — crisscrossing the state as Friess covers events. Other candidates said they haven’t used air travel, though Walker said that Gordon booked one flight to make a campaign forum while also meeting his commitments as treasurer in Cheyenne.
Friess has faced criticism for the plane, however. At the Sheridan Press’s candidate forum on June 26, Democratic candidate Mary Throne suggested Friess was out of touch after the Republican said he thought some road projects could be put on hold until Wyoming’s revenue picture improves.
“It’s easier for Foster to say that he wants to cut road construction because I think he flew here in his plane,” Throne said.
Lewis, Hageman’s communications manager, echoed that sentiment Friday. “The average Wyoming people don’t jump in a jet and fly everywhere,” she said. “They drive.”
Friess counters such criticism by saying that though he has achieved great wealth, he came from a humble background that allows him to identify with Wyoming’s hardscrabble residents. In an interview, Friess pointed to his 2012 Horatio Alger Association award, named after the 19th century novelist who wrote famous rags-to-riches tales. The award is given to Americans who follow the blueprint laid out in those books, Friess said.
“The other day I go in this welding shop,” Friess said. “And these guys, they’re standing around me, and you know how a welder looks like with all the soot and stuff, and I just think ‘these are my guys.’”
Ultimately though, Friess said the criticism of the plane and the money he is spending might come from political winds of the moment.
“I think there’s something maybe more subtle going on,” he said. “This whole idea of … there’s some people who have antipathy towards wealth.”
“If I were blessed to be your governor,” he said, “how would I do a better job for our community, give me one or two items, that I could do better for you if I were poor.”
Non-voting antelope aside, other candidates have said they find the time on the road to be valuable. “Frankly, I don’t think I’d trade it,” Galeotos said of his driving time. “It’s been very valuable in the sense that you just get very grounded [in Wyoming] … you’re really living it.”