Who’s trying to influence the 2015 elections?

A guide to our political TV ad tracker

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 Updated:

The Center for Public Integrity is investigating who is trying to influence the 2015 elections through television advertising, part of a broader effort to consider the sources behind political power in this country.

What is the Center tracking?
The Center created an app to track spending on political advertising on television for state-level elections around the country. The numbers are helpful barometers of how actively a candidate or group has been using television advertising.

Why should I care about the amounts spent on political television advertising?
Television advertising is one of the most popular and most expensive ways to reach voters. Tracking it provides one of the most comprehensive and comparable pictures available of campaign spending across the states. Money doesn’t always win races, but it often helps push a candidate or ballot measure to victory — or defeat. Tracking these ads helps identify who is trying to influence voters and change the outcome of elections. The ads also provide one of the most comprehensive and comparable pictures available of campaign spending across states.

How can I use this?
This information can help you see who is paying to influence your vote in the 2015 elections.
The opening views of the State Ad Wars Tracker shows at a glance when and where the biggest expenditures on TV ads have been. Browse a timeline of the ads by state and who sponsored the ad; see who’s running more this week than last; and who is running the most overall. Get key numbers and compare the size of ad buys between candidates, groups and political parties.

Who is paying for these ads?
Airtime for political advertising is purchased by candidate committees, political parties and independent groups.

What’s the difference between candidate committees, political parties and independent groups?
Political parties and independent groups are more likely to run negative ads that attack a candidate, allowing the candidate supported by the group to appear above the fray. Independent groups typically can accept money from corporations and unions, which candidates running for office cannot do in some states. Such independent groups often don’t have to disclose the same information about the sources of their funding as candidates or parties.

Where does this information come from?
The Center for Public Integrity analyzed data from Kantar Media/CMAG — CMAG stands for Campaign Media Analysis Group — which monitors television signals for political advertising nationwide. The group counts ads each time they run. Then, using a proprietary formula, it estimates how much it costs to place each ad. These may not match up exactly with the true costs of placing an ad. Think of the cost estimates as a well-informed guess, which can provide useful points of comparison.

What period does this information cover?
The information covers political television advertising that ran starting Jan. 1, 2014, geared toward the 2015 elections. To find spending on 2014 races, visit our 2014 Ad Wars tracker.

How often are these numbers updated?
The trackers will be updated weekly on Thursdays through the election and the Center for Public Integrity will be writing stories about what we find.

Which ads are included?
Kantar Media/CMAG monitors television ads that run on local broadcast TV in 211 media markets, as well as national network and national cable TV, but it doesn’t monitor local cable stations. So if an ad runs on a local cable channel, as some are expected to in the 2015 elections, it won't be counted here.

Does this include digital ads, such as those on YouTube? Ads from radio? 
No, these numbers only reflect the ads that ran on television. Kantar Media/CMAG monitors most TV stations, but not local cable stations, online or the radio. It also does not include print advertisements. 

How does this compare to what is available from government sources? 
The estimates only cover television ads, not other kinds of political messages, such as ads that appear on radio or online. The estimates also only include how much money a candidate or organization spent to place the ad, not to make it. And it only counts the ads once they air. Records filed at the Federal Communications Commission, for example, can show TV airtime that groups pay to reserve for the future.  The ad tracker also includes all ads containing overt candidate advocacy as well as “issue ads” that mention a candidate but don’t overtly call for the candidate’s election or defeat.

Why are the spending estimates different from other sources?
These numbers represent actual television ads that have already run. It doesn’t include the cost of producing the ads. It also doesn’t include ads that run on local cable, online or radio. It doesn’t include ads booked to run in the future. It does include ads that don’t expressly advocate for election or defeat. And it’s based on estimates. Counts from other sources are often different in one or more of these ways.

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Have more questions about these numbers? Want to interview one of our reporters for an article?
Email states team leader Kytja Weir or call our statehouse reporters’ hotline at 202-750-0686. Reporters should include what state and race they are writing about and their deadlines.

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