Super PACs spent around $8.3 million on online advertising through May of this year to support or oppose presidential candidates. Conservative and right-leaning groups backing Republicans spent the majority between October 2011 and the end of May 2012. However, by the end of March when Mitt Romney all but clinched the GOP nomination, Republican groups slowed the digital ad spending spree.
According to ongoing analysis of Federal Election Commission reports by ClickZ Politics, 93 percent of independent expenditures on online advertising made in conjunction with the presidential race came from outside groups backing GOP presidential primary hopefuls - or opposing President Barack Obama.
The biggest spenders backed candidates who did poorly in the primaries - Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Endorse Liberty, the most prolific online ad spender throughout the primaries, dropped $3.3 million on online ads to push Paul - most of it going to Google and Facebook.
Gingrich supporter Winning Our Future spent around $3 million on online advertising during the primary season according to ClickZ estimates. The only other group that spent more than $1 million on digital ads between October 2011 and May 2012 was Restore Our Future, the PAC backing Romney, which spent around $1,053,000. According to ClickZ analysis, super PAC spending for the presidential election started in October of last year.
In the period reviewed, $7.78 million went toward online ads backing Republican presidential candidates or opposing Obama. Just $556,000 came from the left, much of it to attack Romney.
Though right-leaning groups dominated presidential online ad spending during the primary season, the tides could be turning. In April and May, left-leaning groups fighting Romney or supporting Obama began boosting online ad spending. Of the approximately $448,000 spent on digital ads by outside groups in April and May, $339,000 or 76 percent of the two-month total came from organizations on the left.
Priorities USA, the pro-Obama group founded by former Obama White House staffers, spent the most of any Super PAC on the left thus far. The group spent just over $268,000 in total on online advertising through Democratic consulting firm GSG Communications since last year. Around $113,000 of that was spent in April and May.
Meanwhile, American Crossroads - the Karl Rove-linked group expected to spend big to fight a second Obama term - spent only $15,000 on online advertising thus far to influence the presidential race, all in May. The group is using Targeted Victory, the same firm handling online ad buys for the Romney camp, to buy its online advertising.
By the end of March, when it had become clear the Romney train was on track to win the GOP nomination, Endorse Liberty and Winning Our Future appear to have ceased online ad spending, if not most media spending all together. It seems the last primary for which Winning Our Future bought online ads to support Gingrich was the April 3 Wisconsin primary, won by Rick Santorum.
These independent expenditures - made possible as a result of the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling - represent a new stream of ad dollars into elections. Before the primaries, some digital consultants anticipated a torrent of IE spending online, but that has yet to occur. Online ad spending appears to account for a small portion of ad budgets compared to TV, radio, and other advertising from super PACs. For instance, both pro-Obama group Priorities USA and pro-Romney group Restore Our Future have spent millions on television spots so far.
To offer some perspective, Priorities USA spent around $3.5 million on TV advertising (not including production costs) in May according to reports it filed with the FEC that month. The $50,000 it spent on digital advertising in the same period represents less than 2 percent of that TV buy.
In May, Restore Our Future spent just under $4 million on media buys with a firm specializing in placing TV spots, but nothing on digital advertising that month, according to May FEC reports.
The tallies presented here could change as some groups have not completed reporting independent expenditures, even those made months ago. For instance, throughout this month Endorse Liberty has filed FEC reports showing online ad spending from way back in January. Also, in cases where organizations listed television or other non-digital ad expenses in the same line item as digital advertising, ClickZ did not include those expenditures.
|2012 Election Super PAC Presidential |
Online Ad Spending
|Endorse Liberty||Supports Ron Paul||$3,310,239|
|Winning Our Future||Supports Newt Gingrich||$3,018,387|
|Restore Our Future||Supports Mitt Romney||$1,052,829|
|Priorities USA||Opposes Mitt Romeny||$268,018|
|Planned Parenthood Action Fund||Opposes Mitt Romney||$160,300|
|Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama||Opposes Barack Obama||$114,586|
|Winning Freedom||Supports Newt Gingrich||$89,429|
|National Organization for Marriage||Opposes Ron Paul||$80,000|
|Red White Blue||Supports Rick Santorum||$47,406|
|DGA Action||Opposes Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum||$45,435|
|Florida Watch Action||Opposes Mitt Romeny||$38,154|
|Naral Pro Choice America||Opposes Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum||$29,112|
|Our Country Deserves Better PAC||Opposes Barack Obama||$15,070|
|9-9-9 Fund||Supports Herman Cain||$15,000|
|American Cross Roads||Supports Mitt Romney, Opposes Barack Obama||$15,000|
|MoveOn Political Action||Opposes Mitt Romney||$13,000|
|Martin Appel||Opposes Barack Obama||$10,250|
|Fidelis||Supports Rick Santorum||$10,000|
|Campaign for Working Families||Opposes Barack Obama||$3,540|
|International Assoc. of Firefighters
Interested in Registration and Educ PAC
|Opposes Mitt Romney||$2,074|
*All data estimated by ClickZ Politics based on FEC filings.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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