Inside the Campaign Ad Machine

A small group of savvy political operatives will control how billions will be spent in next year’s election

Talk to enough political consultants, and sooner or later you’ll hear some variation on the same story: the one about the tiny, small-market TV stations that, come the year after a big election, suddenly find themselves with enough money to buy new furniture, remodel their studios, and give out big bonuses to their staff. Cash doesn’t just flow into TV and radio stations during presidential elections—it gushes. In 2008, TV commercials ate up at least $2.8 billion in campaign funds nationwide, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. About $2 billion of that went to local broadcast ads. Barack Obama’s campaign spent about $310 million of the total, and John McCain’s kicked in another $136 million, with the rest spent by other presidential  candidates during the primaries and by political parties, independent groups, and candidates for other offices.

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