Since Tuesday’s deadline for all broadcast TV stations to post their political ads online, Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth has captured more than 2,400 new ad files from the Federal Communications Commission website. Nearly 70 percent of those (1,697 filings) came from six states that have highly competitive Senate races but no TV stations required to post their political ad files online before this week.
The FCC’s decision to expand its requirement for online posting of political ad files nationwide has increased the number of stations making disclosures ten-fold. Since August 2012, about 230 affiliates of ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in the nation’s 50 largest TV markets have been posting political ad information online. This week’s order bumps the number of filers to more than 2,000.
Those files can be searched and sorted by buyer, by state and by market on Ad Sleuth; however, because they are uploaded as PDFs, other data in them — such as the number and cost of the buys — must be hand-entered. We have done some of that work for the heretofore undisclosed Senate ad buys and while we are far from complete (there are more than 600 ad filings from Arkansas and Alaska alone), we have already identified some key trends:
- Early reservations: In a number of states we examined, candidates and major outside groups have already reserved airtime through Election Day, and many of them made their reservations in the spring.
- Outside cash: Nonprofits and super PACs are major players in a number of states, especially Alaska and Arkansas, which have drawn major money from the Crossroads combine founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority fund.
In Louisiana, ad data revealed several major political players gobbling up airwaves across the state.
The state’s incumbent Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, spent the biggest based on the past 24 hour’s disclosures, dropping $318,000. Interestingly, Landrieu’s buys came primarily in the small markets of Alexandria, 130 miles north of Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, located on the Texas/Arkansas border about 200 miles east of Dallas. Documents show Landrieu buying up airtime through the end of August in Alexandria.
Generation Opportunity, a “millennial advocacy organization” according to its website, purchased 110 ads on Lake Charles NBC affiliate KPLC between June 23 and July 8, according to FCC filings from Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth. The group, which is incorporated as a non-profit rather than as a political action committee, also bought about $4,000 worth of broadcast time in the New Orleans and about $3,300 in the Lafayette market as well.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Generation Opportunity received about 86 percent of its operating budget from two Koch brother linked groups. The group lists its address as a post office box in Arlington, Va. Its nonprofit status means it is not required to disclose its donors.
In Alaska, where the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Mark Begich, is facing a challenge from Republican Attorney General Dan Sullivan, outside groups have already purchased ad time all the way through Nov. 3, the day before Election Day. Among the big spenders: Put Alaska First, a super PAC funded by Democratic behemoth Senate Majority PAC; the Rove-affiliated American Crossroads, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. All have converged on have converged on TV stations in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau to blanket voters with political ads.
With ad spots going for as low as 30 dollars at some stations, the millions of dollars pledged by Crossroads (both the super PAC and nonprofit) and by Senate Majority (in its local guise as Put Alaska First) assure that Alaskans will have no respite from the advertising barrage until Election Day.
A host of outside groups have purchased air time in small markets like Ft. Smith and Little Rock. The American Petroleum Institute, National Education Association and American Crossroads will all be running “non-candidate issue ads,” which are ostensibly not advocating for the election or defeat of a certain candidate.
Another ad buy ad agreement, this one from the Senate Majority PAC, illustrates the thin line between a non-candidate issue ad and an election ad. In a that ran in the El Dorado-Monroe market that straddles Arkansas and Louisiana, the super PAC listed “Bill Cassidy” and “flood insurance” as the topics of the communication, the name of which is “Can’t trust,” according to the filing at NBC’s KTVE. Bill Cassidy is the Republican running against Landrieu for the Louisiana Senate seat.
While spending by political groups organized as “social welfare” nonprofits remains hard to quantify completely, the new FCC regulations give voters a powerful new tool to track how third party groups are affecting elections. New filings in Ad Sleuth from states that did not previously share their political ad documents online reveal which markets the outside spenders are targeting, how their buys match up with candidates’ TV purchases and — with a little elbow grease from journalists and citizens willing to use Sunlight’s tool for data entry — the full sum of their spending at broadcast stations.