Bilbray-Peters Air War Waged 30 Seconds at a Time: Files Reveal Buys

Scott Peters (left inset) and Brian Bilbray share space in a KUSI filing cabinet with Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio — their FCC-required disclosures, that is.

The night before Election Day, Scott Peters will be on Dancing with the Stars and his congressional opponent Brian Bilbray will be on Wheel of Fortune.

Think that’s impressive? Democrat Peters will appear between plays of the NFL game Sunday between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. But Republican incumbent Bilbray will come back Monday with a spot on Ellen, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, who gleefully backs President Obama.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

When it comes to TV commercials for the biggest political battle in San Diego County, you buy what you can afford and reach everyone you can.

Super PACs and conventional campaign committees are pumping millions of dollars into the 52nd Congressional District—considered a key race by both parties. The exact amounts may never be known.

But anyone can see where Bilbray and Peters are spending their TV money by clicking a set of links or paying a visit to KUSI at 4575 Viewridge Ave. in Kearny Mesa.

The Federal Communications Commission requires the top four stations in the 50 biggest U.S. media markets to post candidate contracts online at

In San Diego, that means NBC affiliate KNSD (Channel 39), CBS affiliate KFMB (Channel 8), ABC’s KGTV (Channel 10) and Fox’s KSWB (Channel 60) update their so-called political files regularly. 

Recent samples are attached to this article.

But independent station KUSI, being No. 5 in the San Diego market, is required only to make its candidate files available during regular office hours. Patch paid a visit in mid-October and photocopied a major sampling of the Peters and Bilbray filings.

The new U-T TV—the cable and web-based TV station—isn’t required to keep similar records.

“U-T TV has no requirement to have a political file,” said Brian Musick, sales manager of the station that launched in May. “We are not an FCC-licensed station.”

In the past several months, KUSI alone has made “millions” of dollars from political ads, said Tim McCarthy, the station’s national sales manager. And among the visitors to his station to see his political files have been representatives of other TV stations.

That’s because the 30-second ad rates paid by political campaigns are a public record—although they reflect the best rates available to advertisers making long-term purchases, as mandated by the FCC.

Still, the Peters and Bilbray campaigns—as well as outside Democratic and Republican groups, such as Washington-based congressional campaign committees—are paying a pretty penny.

Some spots are cheaper than others.

Bilbray’s campaign will pay $125 for a 30-second spot on KNSD’s Steve Harvey show Monday. But later that day, it will be charged $625 for a spot on Ellen.

When Peters’ single ad appears Monday night on Dancing with the Stars, however, he’ll pay $3,000.

For two spots on NFL on Fox this Sunday, Peters will pay a total of $6,000.

Overall, in the final eight days of the election, Peters will pay a net $25,351, according to his filings. And that’s for only one TV station—Fox’s KSWB. His first TV spot of the general election aired Sept. 12.

Bilbray—whose commercials range from attacks on Peters to heart-rending appeals from his cancer-stricken daughter—will pay $1,875 for a single spot on Wheel of Fortune the night before the election, filings show.

The San Diego Reader reported that Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform foundation have spent more than $1.4 million in TV ads attacking Peters.

According to an Associated Press report Wednesday, the 52nd District race will be among the top 10 most expensive nationwide.

“In San Diego, where Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray is trying to fend off Democrat Scott Peters, outside groups as varied as Planned Parenthood and Americans for Tax Reform, headed by low-tax crusader Grover Norquist, had spent more than $7.4 million through Monday,” the AP reported.

Between Oct. 29 and Monday night, Bilbray is planning to run 18 spots at a net cost of $24,951.75 on KNSD alone. 

The Democratic-backed House Majority PAC supplements Peters’ own spending with its own ad buys. In one contract, from Oct. 23 to Oct. 29, that PAC bought 87 spots at a cost of $73,850—on KGTV alone.

Because of the vagaries of politics—and TV schedules—both campaigns filed dozens of revisions to their ad buys. And stations also offer “make goods”—adding spots when the originals don’t achieve the promised ratings or viewership.

To see what other candidates and proposition backers and opponents are spending on local TV, check out these Public Files links via the FCC site.

(Type in a station’s call letters and click the icon that looks like a red star hanging from a blue ribbon.)