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January 30, 2013

Who Benefits from Millions Spent on Campaign Ads?

By CREW Staff

Citizens UnitedThis week, a professor writing for the Washington Post became the latest to point out one of the big takeaways from the 2012 elections: political advertisements often don’t do a great job of swaying voters.  In a post-election analysis CREW published back in November, we speculated that the barrage of advertisements by outside groups may have produced diminishing returns in at least some races, overwhelming voters and becoming background noise.

So, if campaigns and voters don’t benefit from the never-ending stream of ads, who does?  A small group of political insiders, of course.  A recent analysis by the Sunlight Foundation found that 80 percent of the mind-boggling $620 million spent by super PACs during the 2012 cycle flowed through only 20 consulting firms, many of them responsible for media buying.  A lot of the money ultimately pays for air time, but the media firms keep a cut.  In many cases, the Sunlight analysis found, the consultants and firms profiting the most had close ties to the campaigns and independent groups spending money on the ads.

It’s possible the 2012 election results will prompt campaigns and independent groups such as super PACs to move away from barraging voters with campaign ads in search of more effective ways to influence elections.  Either way, it’s a sure bet that insiders will keep finding ways to profit at the expense of voters.

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