WASHINGTON -- Should the government be spending millions of taxpayer dollars on Super Bowl ads for the census in these times of daunting deficits and busted budgets?
Some in Congress say no. But the Census Bureau nonetheless plans to spend an estimated $2.5 million for a Super Bowl package that includes three pre-game spots, a 30-second third-quarter commercial and on-air mentions by sportscaster James Brown.
Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, for one, wants the Census Bureau to justify every dollar it's spending on the ads. Thursday, he sent a letter to the secretary of the Department of Commerce and the director of the Census Bureau asking for a strict accounting.
"I am very concerned with the amount of money spent by the Census Bureau for the production and airing of these commercials," Georgia's junior senator wrote.
A spokeswoman for the Census Bureau declined to comment on Isakson's letter. But she did say the expense is justified, adding that past Super Bowl spots have actually saved taxpayer money by encouraging people to mail back census forms.
"Every one percent increase in the mail back of census forms from residents saves the government $80 [million] to $90 million in labor-intensive costs of door-to-door follow-up to non-responding households," Census Bureau spokeswoman Shelly Lowe wrote in an e-mail response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lowe said that when the Census Bureau bought a Super Bowl ad in 2000, it helped halt a three-decade decline in response rates.
Others in Congress, including U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have lambasted the Super Bowl ads as a waste of money. But Isakson said he's not ready to jump to that conclusion.
"I've asked for the evidence that it's justified, and if they've got that evidence, more power to them," Isakson said in an interview, "but I think you have to take a serious look anytime that much money is spent on an ad with taxpayer money."
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