A Top Democratic Super PAC Is Changing How It Spends Money

Priorities USA is adapting to the new world of political spending by bringing its ad-buying in-house.
Guy Cecil is the executive director of Priorities USA.
Guy Cecil is the executive director of Priorities USA.

Once upon a time, buying a political ad was pretty simple. There were three networks and a handful of radio stations in each media market. Political campaigns bought ad time during the evening news, confident their message would reach a significant chunk of registered voters.

Political advertising today is different ― a lot different. There’s the obvious proliferation of television channels, but there’s also a plethora of different digital platforms, including internet radio, Facebook and other social media. Even a significant portion of television viewing takes place on the internet through Hulu and on-demand platforms.

Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC, is adapting to this new reality by bringing all of its digital ad-buying in-house in an effort to have more flexibility in how it’ll spend tens of millions of dollars attacking President Donald Trump over the next two years. The group is also still exploring whether it should bring its television ad-buying in-house instead of using a media-buying agency.

“We have to reach voters wherever they are, and voters are in front of several different screens,” said Madeline Kriger, the digital media director at Priorities USA, which was the major outside group backing both Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 bid. “The line between what’s TV and what’s digital is pretty fuzzy at this point.”

The change might seem technical, but it could have a major impact on how Democrats lay out their attacks against Trump during the 2020 campaign. Officials at the super PAC say the new approach might save some money, but the major reason for it is greater efficiency. Priorities is one of the first political groups to bring their ad-buying decision in-house, although corporations have been making similar moves in recent years. 

“You don’t have to play a game of telephone, you don’t have to translate what our actual strategic goals are into something that an agency will have to interpret,” Kriger said. “Now we have everything in one place, we can strategize together, we can do it all holistically.”

Bringing the buying in-house allows the group to quickly switch which platforms and demographics they’re targeting and with which message, Kriger said. It also helps with long-term planning. 

Priorities USA, which can spend and raise unlimited sums as long as it doesn’t coordinate with a campaign because it’s a super PAC, plans to spend $100 million over the next year attacking Trump in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida. It also has spending planned in states like North Carolina, New Hampshire and Arizona. The goal is to weaken Trump even before a nominee emerges from the Democratic presidential primary.