What Is an IE Spending on Digital? Independent Expenditure Research

by Sophie Thurber (She/Her)

money symbol made out of money

IEs Have Gone Digital- Find out the details 

Unlike TV or radio, digital IE spending doesn’t come with an easy competitive report to help you track who is spending what and where. It’s a bummer, I know. That said, in their efforts to stave off regulation, oversight, and additional congressional inquiries (or maybe I’m too cynical and it’s actually out of the kindness of their democracy-loving hearts), many of the large platforms have started to provide real-time databases for political advertising. To find out what an IE is spending, it will certainly help to know the name of the committee (especially if you’re working in a cluttered independent expenditure field), but there’s a fair amount of flexibility in the search terms, so you should be able to find what you’re looking for using related keywords (think: the candidate’s name).

We have a longer post here that’s dedicated to digital ad transparency, but the short and sweet version boils down to checking these sites:

At the federal level, independent expenditure committees are also subject to filing requirements. Spending may be a little more difficult to decipher on these reports depending on an IE’s filing strategy. Some states also have filing requirements, so you may be able to turn up additional information if you feel like doing the digging.

I think the real benefit to these ad libraries is that with a little bit of searching, you can not only see what is being spent on these three big platforms, but you have easy access to the creative that spending is paired with. What’s more, you don’t have to look at and decipher a government form, so that’s a win in and of itself.

At this point, it’s pretty difficult to get a full picture of exact spending on digital for independent expenditures, but it’s easy to get enough of a sketch to provide an IE program with valuable insights that can serve as a guide for building out a campaign and making adjustments. It’s also important to note that these ad archives are updated in close to real-time, so they’re not a place from which to do early planning. You should have a budget and a roadmap in place that can be tweaked as you find out more about what competitors are up to.

What we do know for certain is that political digital spending is growing rapidly. While it’s still dwarfed by TV spending, estimates peg 2014 digital spending at about $35 million, compared to about $2.3 billion in 2018. Anecdotally, I am still catching my breath from the 2018 cycle, so this seems right.

And of course, the overall landscape around digital political ads, including IE ads, is evolving at a rapid pace, so thinking ahead is a critical piece of this. Google/YouTube has pulled all political advertising in Maryland and Washington states and legislation similar to the laws that prompted that move is pending in a few other states. All the large platforms also now require a verification process (each has a different process, all are cumbersome).

To sum up, while it’s unlikely you’re going to have a perfect view of IE spending on digital in the immediate future, you can assume:

  • Digital spending is likely to continue to make up an increasing portion of IE budgets.
  • Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google are going to provide you with some insights with respect to spend levels and creative direction for both IEs and campaigns. Those insights shouldn’t be the foundation of your IE digital program.
  • State laws are going to be a critical piece of what you can and can’t do from a digital advertising perspective and the lay of the land is far from set, so make sure you’re actively discussing these issues with your vendors.
  • Independent Expenditure Digital Research  Questions -Drop Us a Note