Political TV Ad Archive gets a makeover to help track who is behind shadowy TV ads

Political ads broadcast 234,591 times over 25 markets, and Political Archive has them all. (Photo credit: Political Ad Archive)

Data about political ads isn’t easy to come by. There are several paid services that track political ad buys, like Kantar Media’s CMAG, but they’re expensive. These services certainly aren’t an option for most journalists or ordinary citizens interested in tracking political spending on behalf of their elected officials. Also, news coverage of ad buys can lack specifics about where ads are going to run and how often.

But there are tools out there to help you track political ads. The Political TV Ad Archive allows citizens to match the ads they’re seeing on their TVs with information about where those ads are running, and the site just got a makeover.

The new site allows users to see ads being run on national cable and in 12 TV markets – most of which are swing states and therefore, the most likely places we’ll see heavy ad spending. These markets also cover five close Senate races, including Cleveland-Akron-Canton in Ohio, which is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race this year: by August, more than $43 million had been spent, most of it on ads.

Users can explore a map showing where ads aired run — for example, since July 1, 9,350 ads ran in the Philadelphia market. Clicking on an individual market reveals a list of the actual ads aired, with video, and how often they’ve run and who they’re sponsored by. If you prefer hard data, you can still download CSV datasets of where and when ads aired, broken down by month.

The site’s search function has been updated, too: you can search by candidate, the type of sponsor (a candidate versus an outside group, for example) or even the subject of the ad. A search for ads mentioning Donald Trump and sponsored by super PACs, for example, reveals 178 ads, from groups including Priorities USA and the League of Conservation Voters.

For data on markets not covered by the Archive, the Center for Public Integrity provides a TV ad tracker, using data from KantarCMAG, with its own map display of ads aired run in the primaries and the general election. They also break down spending by the presidential candidates and groups supporting them.

Super PACs and other outside groups are spending at a breakneck pace with about $700 million in expenditures so far, most of it on TV advertising and related like canvassing and digital ads. The public can expect that number to continue to climb with more and more cash spent on TV ads, especially if live in a swing state. So check back to Sunlight’s blog as well as our friends at the Center for Public Integrity and Political TV Ad Archive to help you follow the money behind TV ads.