September 21, 2015 by Bruce Mentzer
Recent headlines have stated: “Super PACs Pay Up To Six Times As Much To Run TV Ads As Actual Campaigns” and “Why Campaigns Have the Edge Over Super PACs on TV”. It’s true, campaigns have several advantages over Super PACs when it comes to buying media advertising time.
Candidates and their official campaign entities are entitled by federal law to the “lowest unit rate” on TV, cable and radio within 45-days of a Primary election, and 60-days prior to a General election. However, most media outlets also give them favored rates and access in the time periods outside of the above “windows”. Issue advertisers and Super PACs receive no such rate protection or guarantee of access — and are often charged exorbitant rates by media outlets.
How much more do Issue groups and Super PACs pay?
Rates vary by market, by station, and even by specific programming – but Super PACs almost always pay more. A recent National Journal article compared what a 30-second spot would cost in The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on WHO-TV in the Des Moines TV market. The Rubio Campaign paid $150 for the 30-second ad, while the Walker Super PAC paid $1,300 for the exact same 30-second ad in the same program. That’s an 866% increase for the exact same spot. While this example may be extreme, it shows that the official campaign organization media dollar can buy much more advertising time than the Super PAC media dollar.
Our own recent internal research and analysis in the New Hampshire TV market of Boston/Manchester showed similar higher prices for Super PACs over campaigns. On a full week schedule of WMUR-TV in Manchester and Boston Affiliate TV (which covers Southern NH), the Kasich Super PAC on average paid 230% more for spots than did the official Christie Campaign. In one specific example, the Kasich Super PAC paid $2,500 for a 30-second ad in the 5PM News while the Christie Campaign paid $700 for a 30-second spot in the same program.
In rough terms, a Super PAC would have to spend around $ 2-3 million to acquire the same level of advertising weight that an official campaign could purchase for around $ 1 million.
What to do? NEGOTIATE all media prior to placing and try to get Issue and Super PAC costs down. Also, reserve early (months in advance if possible) — this will help secure lower rates and also the best programming.