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Las Vegas – Average Political Ad Costs $1,000; Candidates get 40% Discount during the Final Stretch


Within 60 days of an election, every dollar spent by a candidate has the same television advertising buying power as $1.63 from any non-candidate source, according to a new analysis of advertisement contracts in the Las Vegas media market. During this period, FCC regulations mandate that TV stations charge candidates “no more per unit than the station charges its most favorite commercial advertisers” for the same ad time. As it turns out, this preferred status nets candidates a significant discount over super PACs, dark money organizations and party committees.

According to this new data—collected through Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth—candidates enjoy an average markdown of $364 off their typical $946 price tag for a thirty second spot, which constitutes a 38.5 percent price cut.

This helps to explain why, as Ezra Klein has pointed out, ads from Obama and his allies have been more frequent than ads from Romney and his allies. Because more money on the Republican side has been flowing into the election through super PACs and other outside groups, the GOP’s purchasing power is diminished.

The effect of the FCC’s favoritism appears to be the intended one, in that the reach of individuals actually running for public office, rather than special interests, is extended.

For example, this data indicates that the 30.1 million dollars independent expenditures (mostly in the form of TV ads) by non-candidates spent in Nevada since September 7th had effectively the same ad buying power as 19.1 million dollars from candidates, constituting an 11 million dollar handicap.

This observed price gap as actually far smaller than has been cited in anecdotal evidence. In an earlier article on Wonkblog, Klein mentioned that “in one Ohio ad buy slated to run just before the election, for example, Obama is paying $125 for a spot that is costing a conservative super PAC $900.” This suggests a price disparity as high as 7-1, and other anecdotal surveys have suggested that the price gap to be as high as 4-1. At least in Las Vegas, our data does not support estimates that high.

Las Vegas is the media market most inundated with political advertisements, and the average political spot costs just under one grand ($979.67). However, even when everyone is playing by the same rules, they do not pay the same rates. Before the FCC rules kick in, candidates pay just $946 per spot, while non-candidates coughed up $1,330 for every ad.

It is important to note that this dataset does not distinguish between the time of day or the program that the ad was aired during. So, the price discrepancy alone does not prove that non-candidates are getting worse rates. It is possible that candidates are offered better rates, but it is just as possible that candidates tend to buy contracts earlier and thus at reduced prices, or generally to buy cheaper ad time.

This does not affect our earlier findings: the change in the price discrepancy when the FCC rule comes into effect is quite clear (not to mention statistically significant). The FCC’s regulatory favoritism is giving candidates a significant spending advantage, though this effect may be far smaller than has been generally presumed.



The analysis in this post is based off of a random sample of 299 advertisement contracts from the Las Vegas media market that were submitted between August 2nd and October 21st. These contracts contained agreements to purchase 20,821 spots, running a total bill of $17,426,635.

Difference in Difference Analysis



Std. Error







<2e-16 ***





0.0117 *










0.0419 *

Signif. codes:  0 ‘’ 0.001 ‘’ 0.01 ‘’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 673.5 on 295 degrees of freedom

Multiple R-squared: 0.2056,            Adjusted R-squared: 0.1976