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Who pays for those political ads on TV?

Three women in living room watching television
Posted at 2:00 PM, Nov 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-02 15:00:03-04

With the midterm election coming up, you have likely seen an influx of political advertisements on television.

But who exactly pays for those ads? In some cases, you can literally read the receipts. 

Generally, when an ad includes a message that mentions the candidate’s name and “I approve this message,” the spot was paid for by the candidate’s official campaign. Whenever someone donates to a candidate’s official campaign for federal office, like the U.S. House or Senate, those dollars can be tracked by the Federal Elections Commission.

Among Senate candidates, Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock has raised the most nationwide with over $115 million in contributions and over $6 million from other committees.

Even with campaign finance rules, tracking how each dollar is received can be tricky. For instance, Warnock received contributions from the Beasley Warnock Victory Fund. The fund is being used to support Warnock and fellow Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley of North Carolina.

There have been a total of 65 contributions made to the fund. The group Act Blue matched donations for every dollar donated to the fund. How is Act Blue funded? It has received nearly $1.88 billion in campaign contributions since the end of the 2020 election cycle. Some of these funds come from other political action committees, so as you can tell, it can take many steps to follow exactly where each dollar comes from.

Oftentimes, advertisements are paid for by political action committees and not by the candidate. These ads might support a particular candidate, or group of candidates, but there are rules against coordination between candidates and these groups.

The Federal Election Commission stipulates that these types of political advertisements must carry a disclaimer on radio and television.

“A radio or television communication that is not authorized by a candidate or the candidate’s authorized committee (or their agents), must include an audio statement from a representative of the political committee, corporation, labor organization, individual or group paying for the communication that ‘XXX is responsible for the content of this advertising,’ where ‘XXX’ is the name of the political committee, corporation, labor organization, individual or group who paid for the communication,” the FEC said. “This is in addition to the statements identifying who paid for the communication and that it is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

As of the latest federal filings, Democratic Senate candidates have raised over $793 million compared to over $667 million raised by Republicans. Democratic House candidates have $943 million, compared to $912 million for Republicans.

In addition to the Federal Election Commission, Open Secrets also tracks money in federal elections. The website also tracks the role lobbyists play in politics.