Campaign Cash Pouring into TV Ads by the Billions
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In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the two weeks before the recall election against incumbent Governor Scott Walker — when outside money was swamping the state — there was nothing on local news about political ad spending. But there were 53 segments that mentioned Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer who has countless young fans but to the best of our knowledge has not yet established a super PAC.
In the swing state of Ohio, during the month of August, “Cleveland’s four affiliate stations provided no coverage of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, despite airing the group’s anti-Obama attack ads more than 500 times. Americans for Prosperity has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million to place ads on Cleveland television stations.”
And in Charlotte, North Carolina, site of the Democratic National Convention, “four affiliate stations provided no local reporting on the three top-spending political groups, the anti-Obama American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity and Restore Our Future. From Jan. 1–Aug. 31, 2012, these three groups cumulatively spent more than $4 million to place ads on Charlotte stations.”
According to the Free Press report, “This profiteering may explain broadcasters’ reluctance to investigate the relationship between political ad spending and local media. In exchange for this massive influx of cash, broadcasters must take their public interest obligations seriously. They must cover the money that’s poisoning our politics, expose the groups and individuals funding political ads in their markets, and address the falsehoods presented in most of these spots.”
Nonetheless, we have “a system gamed to a point of dysfunction by wealthy, undisclosed donors and media corporations that are all too content to just cash their checks.”
To be fair, some stations are doing some form of due diligence — local stations in Denver, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas and Minneapolis, for example, are attempting to fact-check political ads running on their air. But they’re overwhelmed, and the media giants that have taken over most of our TV have been able to ignore their public obligations with impunity. Free Press and other media watchdog groups do their best, and your involvement is essential if they’re to keep reporting what the most of the press — especially local TV stations — will not.
The recent FCC decision to insist that stations place online public records of political ad buys was an important step toward transparency. But even after Election Day has passed, pressure has to continue on Congress, the IRS, the FCC and the Federal Elections Commission — despite its current, weakened and feckless status. Dark money has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light.