Due to a surviving remnant of campaign finance regulation, television stations are required to offer candidates advertising time at the “lowest unit rate.” They are not required to do the same for super-PACs or political parties. . . .
The Obama campaign (excluding super-Pacs and the party) entered September with about $88 million compared with about $50 million for the Romney campaign (ditto on the exclusions). So almost all of the pro-Obama money — $88 million of $101 million — is eligible for lowest unit rate while less than one third of the pro-Romney money — $50 million of $165 million — is. In recent months, television rates for super-PACs have cost several times — sometimes even five or six times — the rate paid by candidates. As the election nears, station inventory contracts and prices rise for candidates, that differential will shrink. But super-PACs will still probably pay double or more what candidates pay for advertising time.
So the good news for Obama is the dollar he raises from an auto worker in Detroit could be worth as much as five or six dollars from Romney billionaires like Sheldon Adelson or Charles and David Koch. The bad news for Obama is that Adelson is worth more than the gross domestic product of 23 nations put together. So Adelson can effortlessly toss off $10 million checks to support Mitt Romney, while Obama must endure the far more painstaking process of raising money from hundreds of Americans contributing far, far less.