Photograph by David Goldman—AP
By Anne VanderMey
September 30, 2015

If you were feeling nostalgic for the great political campaign TV advertising inundation of 2012, you’re in luck. Candidates are starting to book ads again.

In particular, Jeb Bush has moved to reserve millions of dollars worth of airtime this month, after lying relatively low so far this year. On Monday, the campaign confirmed it is planning to spend $7.8 million for TV spots in January and February. It has booked $1 million in Iowa, the campaign says, $4.6 million in New Hampshire, and $2.2 million in South Carolina.

That pales in comparison to the value of the airtime Bush’s Super PAC has reserved recently, much of it for ads that will run early next year. The organization, Right to Rise, is already slated to spend $41.3 million, according to Smart Media Group’s FCC-document data-crunching. That puts Bush squarely in the lead for planned TV time. According to the firm’s data (see below chart), as of Sept. 17 Bush was already number one in terms of ad time booked—and his latest moves further solidify that standing. (Note: This paragraph has been updated to reflect the newest numbers from Smart Media Pharos.)

That’s big money by any measure. And it’s only getting bigger, as Super PACs continue to play an outsize role in politics. However, it’s worth noting that well-funded issue groups often get a pretty terrible deal for the airtime they buy. Kantar Media’s Elizabeth Wilner estimates issue groups sometimes pay triple or more what candidates do for the same ads. As TV stations move to capitalize on the political season spending blitz, they could charge Super PACs 10 times the rate they charge candidates, which are protected from price-gouging by law.

How high will prices go this season? Local TV stations are looking forward to finding out. Kantar Media predicts that television ad buys this cycle will reach $4.4 billion. Advertising research firm Borrell Associates estimates the total will be even higher—projecting that spending on cable and broadcast will top $6 billion.

However you slice it, that’s more money spent on political ads in the U.S. than ever before. Get your TiVo ready.

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