Sunlight Foundation and Free Press Release Political Ad Sleuth Tool

Website enables search of political ad buys
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WASHINGTON— The nonprofit group Sunlight Foundation, along with project partner Free Press, launched Political Ad Sleuth, a website with a searchable database of political ad buys across the United States and a crowd-sourced research tool for journalists.


The site provides real-time data on where these ads are airing, who is paying for them and covers presidential, congressional and issue ads.Political Ad Sleuth allows you search, upload and share information about political ads airing on TV.

The site is built upon online ad files from the Federal Communications Commission from the top 50 media markets, as well as those uploaded by volunteers in smaller markets. You can browse by state, city or station or search by candidate, issue group or a term of your choosing. Bulk downloads of the data are also available.

“Since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision over two years ago, political committees thinly disguised as nonprofit ‘social welfare’ organizations are spending millions of dollars trying to influence the election with little to none donor disclosure. But there is one place where these dark money groups leave a paper trail: at the local TV stations where they buy ads,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Reporting Group. “Although not 100 percent comprehensive, Political Ad Sleuth provides some of the only information we have on who's behind the shadowy groups pouring money into the election.”

The site regularly adds information from an FCC database and lists the most recent files on the home page. Users can also browse or download data about what cities had the most political ads in the past week. When searching for a particular campaign or issue group, users will find a page that lists all their ads.

Each file includes a listing of the type of ad, what candidate or issue group it covered, length of ad buy and a link to review the original file with the FCC. When reviewing the original file, you’ll find additional information such as total amount spent, how many spots purchased, during what programs the ad aired and what media company coordinated the ad buy. The site asks volunteers to update the latter block information in the Political Ad Sleuth database to make a more comprehensive site.