Guess who is popping the champagne cork over this week's Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon vs. FEC, which will allow wealthy individuals to donate virtually unlimited dollars to candidates, political parties, and political action groups?
On Thursday, the radio industry newsletter Inside Radio wrote [subscription req'd] that the McCutcheon decision was "likely to boost [ad] spending" in 2014. They explain that the 2010 Citizens United decision "opened the floodgates to more dollars in politics and the result was record campaign spending on radio in 2012." They predict that the Court's ruling this week "could help spur even more spending."
In another piece this week [also subscription req'd] the newsletter trumpets:
More competitive races, combined with a greater number of outside groups that don't qualify for the lowest unit rate, have the potential to make the 2014 mid-term election cycle more ad intensive than first thought. So much so, that the analysts at Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), have boosted their political spending forecast. Kantar estimates radio could see $180 million in political ad spending by Election Day."
$180 million? That's chump change when it comes to what the television industry stands to make. Bloomberg reports that TV stations will make in excess of $2.5 billion --- with a "B" --- from political ad sales in 2014. And that's nothing compared to what they expect to make in 2016 during a Presidential race.
And of course, many, if not most of those ads mislead or outright lie to the very public in whose interest the broadcasters are licensed to serve.
Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?
Overturning Citizens United and McCutcheon may take years, decades even, if it ever happens at all. But given that We the People have real power as the owners of the airwaves, I see some ways we can reduce at least some of the political ad spending, and perhaps take a lot of money out of politics...
First, many of my allies are fighting for names of campaign donors to be disclosed. The FCC has the power to do this, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) nearly derailed FCC Chair Tom Wheeler's nomination over this very issue. I think disclosure is a common sense idea (and one GOP politicians supported before they didn't), but I just can't see how telling people that Sal Russo paid for an ad that has just misled them will do much good.
Second, as I have written at The BRAD BLOG before, broadcasters are required by law to air ads that are paid for by candidates. The stations may not fact check those ads, so candidates are free to lie to the public as much as they choose. However, stations do not have to accept any ads paid for by third parties.
If they accept those ads, and if those ads lie to the public, the station may be held LIABLE. The problem here is one of legal standing: if an individual is defamed in an ad, he or she has standing to sue the station. But attorneys I have talked with say that the public has no standing to sue if ads lie to us, even though the airwaves belong to us, and even though We the People are clearly harmed by those lies. There MUST be a bright attorney out there who can make a case on our behalf, right?
But perhaps the best idea is to float a ballot initiative out here in California, simply banning all political ads on our broadcast stations. The airwaves belong to us, after all, and perhaps it is time for We the People to take control of that which is ours, and sharply reduce the influence of money on our political system.
I wonder if broadcasters would cover that initiative fairly --- or even at all. (So much for the
corporate "liberal" media.)
Sue Wilson is a media activist, director of Public Interest Pictures' Broadcast Blues, and a 22 year veteran of broadcast journalism. Her numerous awards include Emmy, AP, RTNDA, and PRNDI for work at CBS, PBS, FOX, and NPR. She is the editor of the media criticism blog, Sue Wilson Reports and founder of the Media Action Center.
[IMAGE: Shutterstock/Sean Locke Photography]