Tracking TV Ad Buys


September 5, 2012

Outside groups spend $37 million in political TV buys in Virginia

Half of ads are paid for by secret money


    Outside political groups have bought $37 million worth of airtime in Virginia’s top four TV markets, with half of the money spent by groups that keep their donors a secret, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.


     In 2008, outside groups spent only $2.3 million in advertising, according to a study by CNN.

     “It’s a perfect storm for TV viewers,” said VPAP executive director David Poole. “Virginia has become a top 2-3 battleground state in the very year when outside groups have seemingly unlimited resources to spend.”


      To help Virginians make sense of this new phenomenon, VPAP has built tools that show the amount of TV time purchased in each market, the ideology of the outside groups and which groups keep their donors a secret. Among the findings:

  • Conservative groups are outspending liberal groups 3:1 CHART
  • Outside Groups have reserved $7 million in airtime in October TIMELINE
  • American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS account for half of all spending LIST
  • Viewers in SW Va. are more likely to see ads from conservative groups MAP
     

In the last presidential election, most of the TV ads were purchased by the campaigns and political parties. But spending by outside groups is exploding, aided by Supreme Court decisions and gray areas in the federal tax code. Here are the two most common outside groups:


Super PACs: The Supreme Court has found there is no constitutional basis for imposing contribution limits on PACs as long as they do not donate money to candidates or coordinate their activities with campaigns. This has given rise to “Super PACs” that can accept unlimited donations – as long as they disclose their donors.


“Social Welfare” Groups: The IRS allows certain non-profit groups to engage in political activity as long as they are “primarily” engaged in enhancing social welfare. The lack of clarity behind the term “primarily” has spawned a new generation of 501-c-4 groups pushing aggressively in politics. These groups can keep their donors a secret.

Sept. 5, 2012