In this presidential election, American voters are coming under an ad attack like never before.
By the time voters go to the polls on Nov 6, they would've been bombarded by $1 billion worth of ads - mostly on television - aired by President Barack Obama, his Republican challenger Mitt Romney and independent groups that support one of the candidates. That level of spending, reported by National Journal magazine, would make this election the costliest in U.S. history.
It's unclear if this tidal wave of negative ads will help or hurt Obama and Romney. Americans tell pollsters they're sick of seeing these ads every time they turn on the TV. But it's clear that the candidates and their allies think the ads are effective because they're working to outspend each other in the ad department.
So far, the Obama campaign has spent $300 million on ads and the Romney campaign has shelled out $366 million, according to The Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group.
Independent groups have raised $543.7 million since January 2009, and have spent about $423.8 million, mostly on TV ads. Voters living in "swing" states - those that could go for either candidate - are tortured the most because they see virtually all of those ads.
Obama and Romney spend most of their time in key swing states that hold the keys to the election: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico and North Carolina.
According to the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads, the Denver TV market was flooded with more ads than anywhere else in the U.S. in September. Obama and Romney ads were broadcast 7,700 times between Sept 9 and Sept 30 in the Denver region alone, the study found, with pro-Obama ads being shown 1,812 more times.
The ads were so annoying that one Colorado political scientist joked that he longs for the return of second hand-car commercials.
What accounts for this unprecedented ad blitz is a 2008 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The justices were split 5-4 on the ruling, illustrating the visceral disagreement at the highest levels of the U.S. government over whether or not the U.S. Congress can restrict political advertising.
By rejecting restrictions on how much political groups can raise and spend, the court opened to door for corporations - which support Republicans - and labor unions - which back Democrats - to collect and spend unlimited sums.
The only stipulations are that independent groups should have no formal ties to the candidates and can't expressly advocate for a particular man or woman.
But those legalistic requirements are easily met. There's no doubt where the loyalties of these groups lie. And, while the ads may not endorse anyone specifically, they paint one candidate in such a negative light that it's clear that the other is being indirectly endorsed.
So, the blitz will continue until Election Day. Voters may fret and fume, complain and castigate, but they will have to endure the onslaught. Or they could do the one thing that the ad buyers don't want - turn off their TVs.