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“Deception Carries No Meaningful Risk”: Mega-Blitz Of Ad Spending Makes It Easier For Candidates To Lie

Today the New York Times reports that Republicans are benefiting from a money surge that could give them a boost in all those tight Senate races, and the article probably brought a smile to many Republican faces. The truth is that it’s probably too late for money in these amounts to change much of anything either way.

But this is significant, because it highlights how current campaigns are now getting hit by such a massive blizzard of spending and advertising that for candidates, accountability has become all but impossible and deception carries no meaningful risk.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

All told, in seven races for which both Democrats and Republicans provided complete fund-raising totals by Wednesday evening — Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina — Republicans held more cash in six of them, with a net advantage of about $7 million. At the same time, Democrats had booked more advertising from Sept. 29 through Election Day in at least five of those races, with the biggest advantages in North Carolina and Iowa, according to a Republican tracking media purchases.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia and Iowa, Republican contenders posted their best fund-raising quarter of the year. In Iowa, the Republican candidate, Joni Ernst, who narrowly leads in polling, raised $6 million, more than double the amount taken in by her Democratic opponent, Representative Bruce Braley, and reported three times as much in cash on hand than Mr. Braley. Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas reported raising $3.8 million, far more than the Democratic incumbent, Senator Mark Pryor, who took in $2.2 million. In Colorado, Representative Cory Gardner raised $4.5 million and reported $1.4 million more in cash on hand than Senator Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent.

If you don’t live in one of these states it may be hard to appreciate the incredible volume of political ads television viewers have already endured in recent months. A count from the Wesleyan Media Project of television ads shows that in just one week, some 14,000 ads were aired in North Carolina, 13,000 in Iowa, 11,000 in Kentucky, and so on. Buying a few hundred more ads in one of these states is like walking up to people who have been standing in the middle of a monsoon and firing a squirt gun at them.

Meanwhile, the total spending so far in these races is enormous, as these data from the Center for Responsive Politics show:

By the time the race is over, the spending in, for example, North Carolina will probably total at least $75 million. Is another million or two going to be transformative? Probably not.

The important thing here is that all of this spending makes real accountability a lot harder. The candidates know that any forum where they might actually be held accountable will inevitably be drowned out by all the ads. For instance, in a debate yesterday Cory Gardner had to endure a grilling by a couple of obviously exasperated reporters over the fact that Gardner keeps denying that the “Personhood” bill he sponsored in Congress actually does what it says it does. He bobbed and weaved, and the footage looks really bad. But is Gardner particularly worried? I doubt it. He’s up by a couple of points in the polls, and how many people actually watched that debate? He has thousands of opportunities to get his message out his way.

Nor, I suspect, is Mitch McConnell worried that he’ll pay a price for trying to fool people in Kentucky into thinking that you can repeal the Affordable Care Act “root and branch,” but they’ll still get to keep Kynect, the hugely successful ACA exchange. Voters don’t understand the distinction, and the media aren’t helping them get it. In the post-Citizens United world, there’s little to fear, so long as you and your allies have the money.

That isn’t to say that the media couldn’t impose some accountability if they truly wanted to. But it would take an agreement that a particular issue is important enough to warrant intense, repeated attention. And that, apparently, is something they only do for things that have little or no substantive importance, like whether a candidate will say who she voted for.

Thirty years ago, George H.W. Bush’s press secretary Peter Teeley was asked by a reporter about a lie Bush had told during his debate with Geraldine Ferraro. “You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it,” he said. And if reporters then correct the falsehood? “So what?” Teeley responded. “‘Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000.”

The principle today is the same, but the information environment has changed. Candidates are no more afraid of accountability than they were, but now it’s because they’re drowning voters in advertising. And they can still say anything they want.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 16, 2014

October 17, 2014 Posted by | Media, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Outsiders Coordinating With The Insiders”: ‘Citizens United’ Is Turning More Americans Into Bystanders

Are we spending our democracy into oblivion?

This is the time of year when media scribblers bemoan how nasty political campaigns have become. The complainers are accused of a dainty form of historical ignorance by defenders of mud-slinging who drag out Finley Peter Dunne’s 1895 assertion that “politics ain’t beanbag.” Politics has always been nasty, the argument goes, so we should get over it.

In fact, structural changes in our politics are making campaigns more mean and personal than ever. Even Dunne might be surprised. Outside groups empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision are using mass media in ways that turn off Americans to democracy, aggravate divisions between the political parties and heighten animosities among citizens of differing views.

Studies of this year’s political advertising show that outside groups are blanketing the airwaves with messages far more negative than those purveyed by the candidates themselves. That shouldn’t surprise us in the least. “Candidates can be held accountable for their ads,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a consumer organization that is trying to encourage candidates to disown “dark money.” “The outside groups are unknown, and have confusing names.”

No one is advertising under the moniker “Influence Peddlers for Crummy Politics.”

There is far too much complacency about big money’s role in this year’s campaigns, on the grounds that both sides have plenty of it. This misses the point. “It doesn’t balance it out if you have billionaire Republicans battling billionaire Democrats,” says Weissman. “You still have billionaires setting the agenda for the election.”

Moreover, a focus just on this year’s competitive Senate and House races misses the enormous impact a handful of very wealthy people can have on state and local campaigns. A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice details how, at a relatively modest cost to themselves, a privileged few can change how government that is supposed to be nearest to the people is actually carried out.

“At this scale, you don’t have to be a Koch brother to be a kingmaker,” the report informs us. Worse, the supposedly “independent” spending of the super-rich kingmakers isn’t independent at all. The report documents how closely the activities of supposedly outside groups are coordinated with insiders and the candidates themselves.

Like everything else in our politics these days, Citizens United is usually debated along ideological lines. Progressives typically hate it. Conservatives usually defend it. But citizens of every persuasion should be worried about what this precedent-shattering decision has unleashed. More than ever, politics is the only profession that regularly advertises against itself. If voters feel cynical, the outside groups — on both sides — are doing all they can to encourage their disenchantment.

A study by the Wesleyan Media Project of ads aired between Aug. 29 and Sept. 11 found that 55 percent of ads in U.S. Senate elections were negative, up from 43.7 percent over the same period in 2010. Wesleyan found that 91.4 percent of the ads run by outside groups in support of Democrats were negative, compared with 41.9 percent of those run by Democratic candidates themselves. For Republicans, 77.9 percent of the group ads were negative, compared with only 12.3 percent of the candidate ads. Negative ads were down slightly in the next two-week period, but there were still more negative commercials run this year than in the comparable period in 2010.

Defenders of massive spending on advertising, positive or negative, will make the case that at least the ads engage voters. Not necessarily, and certainly not this year. Indeed, the Pew Research Center found in early October that only 15 percent of Americans are following the elections “very closely.” Interest in the campaign, says Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew, “is the lowest it has been at this point in an off-year election in at least two decades.”

Hardly a day goes by without someone lamenting how polarized our politics has become. Can anyone seriously contend that the current way of running and financing elections is disconnected from the difficulty politicians have in working together? “How are they supposed to get along with the other side the day after the election?” Weissman asks. Writing recently in Foreign Affairs, the sometimes dissident conservative writer David Frum argues that “the radicalization of the party’s donor base has led Republicans in Congress to try tactics they would never have dared use before.”

Thus the tragic irony: Citizens United is deepening our divisions and turning more citizens into bystanders. Our republic can do better.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 12, 2014




October 13, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Democracy | , , , , , | 1 Comment


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