In the heaviest advertising month yet during the 2016 presidential campaign, non-candidate groups such as super PACs and politically active nonprofits have dominated the airwaves.
Such organizations, made possible by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, ran more than 8,400 presidential race-focused ads from Oct. 1 through Oct. 26, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by advertising tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
In contrast, only one Republican presidential candidate has sponsored his own ads. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson aired more than 400 spots last week, according to preliminary data.
The October ad data represents a dramatic outsourcing of presidential campaign messaging. Not even during the 2012 Republican primaries, when super PACs first began supporting presidential hopefuls, did candidate campaigns so completely cede their paid TV messaging to proxy groups.
Wednesday’s Republican debate in Boulder, Colo., however, will allow voters to tune their televisions to CNBC and hear directly from the presidential candidates themselves.
The advertising landscape in the Republican presidential primary contrasts sharply with the Democratic one, where 96 percent of TV ads aired so far have been sponsored by candidates — although there have been far fewer Democratic TV ads overall.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who leads in the polls, has paid to air roughly nine out of every 10 ads on the Democratic side. A pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action, announced its first TV ad last week.
The only super PAC that has so far aired a significant number of ads in the Democratic race — Generation Forward, which is supporting former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley— has sponsored fewer than 200 ads.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has challenged Clinton’s lead in some early state polls, has yet to air an ad. Harvard Professor Larry Lessig, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored fewer than 400.