Super PACs, the uncapped expenditure committees born out of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, are increasingly defining the political marketing world and completely dominate GOP ad spending. Though still focused on TV advertising, super PACs have now started to spread their influence into traditionally campaign-run tasks.
According to a report authored by the Wesleyan Media Project and the Center for Responsive Politics, 81% of all TV ads in the Republican primary, as of December, were super-PAC-sponsored. A whopping 35,743 of the 44,270 total ads aired by GOP candidates were paid for by super PACs.
This onslaught from the shadowy organizations is having a deep impact on the TV advertising landscape -- especially in early primary states, where competition for local markets is steep and inventory is tightening up. According to The New York Times, super PACs can end up spending nine times what a campaign would pay for the same spot.
However, as noted previously in this column, TV ads are no longer sufficient to get a bump in the polls, as they had been in the past. Further, heavy TV ad spenders are getting a minimal return for their money. Super PACs are catching on to this fact, and have recently begun to invest increasingly in on-the-ground infrastructure and digital media.
The “Keep the Promise 1” super PAC, which supports Senator Ted Cruz, has barely aired any ads, paying for just one commercial that ran during the Iowa vs. Iowa State football matchup. Instead, it’s been focusing on the ground game, having hired around 10 staff members working in Iowa and South Carolina.
“The 2016 Committee” super PAC, which had promoted a Ben Carson candidacy before he announced, has developed into a huge organization with 36,000 volunteers. Zeroing in on the diversification from TV ads, the group chairman, John Philip Sousa IV, told the Times his group was investing in “feet-on-the-ground operations and get-out-the-vote operations as opposed to television commercials that once people see twice, they’re bored.”
TV ad dollars won’t be funneled away anytime soon, but there is a definite trend within super PACs toward on-the-ground operations and online media.