Political Advertising in the Citizens United Era

Now that corporations and unions can spend directly on elections, per the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, how will the landscape of political TV and radio advertising change in this election cycle? Many expect a flood of advertising, and Jeremy Jacobs at Campains & Elections explains that corporations might crowd out the campaigns themselves on the airwaves.

Corporations and unions will have to pay premium ad rates, whereas campaigns pay lower rates. As corporations may potentially rush to buy air time, Jacobs explains how this might change things:

An increase in premium television buys could have a twofold impact. First, the price of television ads could go up; candidates will have to opt for higher ad rates in order to keep their spots from getting bumped by third party group ads. Candidates would also be at a disadvantage because wealthy third party groups could lock in their ad buys early, before a candidate has raised the money to cover his or her media plan. The main beneficiaries should be the stations, which will be able to fetch higher ad rates.

Second, candidates and campaigns looking for less expensive, high impact buys could shift more of their budgets online. Media buyers that focus on the Internet say the decision has already been a boon to their business. Online media can be more narrowly targeted and campaigns can receive real time results of who is seeing their ads, something television and radio doesn't provide with as much detail. "We do a lot of issue advocacy, so we see a huge benefit," says David Wolk of the Goodway Group. "In our world, we really have some leverage right now," Wolk adds. "We have so much data and post-buy information."

This is something that could possibly change if Democrats succeed in passing post-Citizens United campaign finance reforms, as they are trying to do before campaign season gets into full swing. The Senate bill, proposed by former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer of New York, contains a provision on lowest-unit ad rates.

The House bill, proposed by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, does not include the provision, but the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over TV and radio ad rates (and part of any bill that would regulate them) may look into post-Citizen United implications for advertising.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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