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Posts Tagged ‘Political Spending’

What All Those Political TV Ads Could Have Bought

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose the nation’s radio and television stations are quite happy with all the campaign cash that’s been spent with them this year, but when you consider their effectiveness- wow- what a colossal waste of cash.

I read about a study the other day that found that when a political partisan sees a negative TV ad that attacks their candidate, instead of changing minds, the commercials tend to strengthen their support for their guy.   And since undecided voters number about 3% of the population that basically means you are throwing away billions on the 97% you not only didn’t convince- but whose resolve to despise your candidate, you likely strengthened.

So…let’s break out the calculator, shall we?  According to non-partisan research group, Center for Responsive Politics, $700 million were spent in 2008 on federal elections.  This year?  After the Citizen’s United Ruling that allows anybody to spend as much as they want with no limits- federal elections will eat up $6 billion.  That’s the total spent by the campaigns themselves, the political parties and all those new limitless Super Pacs.

So what does 6 billion buy you these days?

– You could have paid about a third of all the property damage inflicted by Superstorm, Sandy.

– You could have fed 7.5 million American families for a month.

– You could have put 120 thousand people to work making 50 grand a year.

– You could have bought 300 thousand people a $20 thousand car.

– You could have purchased more than 1.5 billion gallons of gas.

– You could have bought schools 6 million, thousand-dollar lap tops.

– Instead of making people ill with your political ads you could have just bought them 1.7 million top-of-the-line Samsung 60-inch, HD flat screen TV’s.

But, no.  Instead, we have spent billions on TV commercials with grainy, black and white footage of politicians, punctuated by ominous background music as golden-throated announcers try to scare the crap out of us with doomsday scenarios of the horrible things that will happen to us the day the other guy gets elected.

Just three more days of this, folks.

SuperPacs and Cynicism and Disgust with the Democratic Process

January 5, 2012 2 comments

I don’t know if the five Supreme Court justices who signed off on the Citizen’s United case have been reading the newspapers and watching cable, but the effect of the ruling has been on full display over the past month and things are not going according to the high court’s rose-colored-glasses view that unlimited political expenditures are harmless expressions of free speech.

The ruling that gave corporations and labor unions the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns assumed a number of things.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, for example, denied it would “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”   And that was because the public would know where the money was coming from and because candidates and so-called “Super Pacs” (PAC= Political Action Committees) would never coordinate.  Please.

The candidacy of Newt Gingrich was destroyed in Iowa with $4 million in withering negative ads from PACS supporting Mitt Romney.  The brief Gingrich resurgence following the death of the Herman Cain campaign was sliced and diced by the assault, cutting the former House Speaker’s poll numbers by half. 

Direct coordination with the Romney campaign would be illegal, of course.  But as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus points out, there’s darned near a shadow campaign staff operating the Romney PAC called “Restore our Future.” 

The committee is run by Carl Forti, political director of Romney’s 2008 campaign. Its treasurer is Charles Spies, the Romney 2008 general counsel. Its fundraiser, Steve Roche, headed the Romney 2012 finance team until jumping to the super PAC last summer. And to underscore the flimsiness of the PAC’s supposed independence, Romney himself has spoken at “Restore Our Future” events.

Yet up-to-date information about who is bankrolling this effort will not be available until the end of January, by which point four states will have voted and Romney may have the nomination wrapped up.

And it’s not just Republicans.  Former Obama aides run a PAC called Priorities USA which has already been releasing nasty anti-Romney ads.  One can only imagine the slime and dirt that will fill our TV screens and radio dials this fall from all the Super Pacs that are out there .   

In a very insightful article in Slate.com, Dahlia Lithwick, writes that even some state courts are beginning to question the wisdom of the Citizen’s United ruling.  The Montana Supreme Court, for example, has recently ruled by a vote of 5-2 that corporations are not people and that to assume unlimited political expenditures are benign goes against well over a century and a half of practice in Montana state politics.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath dove deep into that history, ranging back over the “tumultuous years … marked by rough contests for political and economic domination primarily in the mining center of Butte, between mining and industrial enterprises controlled by foreign trusts or corporations.” Noting that, back in the last Gilded Age, Montana’s wealthy “Copper Kings” bought judges and senators, picked the location of the capital, and owned the media, McGrath pointed to Montana’s vast size, sparse population, low-cost elections, and long history of having its resources plundered by foreign corporate interests to emphasize that the state has a compelling interest in maintaining its ban.

The sad fact is that negative campaigning and advertising are hideously effective and only nominally based on any discernible truth.  To not be able to identify who’s putting up the money for these organizations that put out these ads means there is absolutely no accountability for them.  Nor will we be able to tell how the donations by anonymous individuals impact the candidate once they become an office holder and are in a position to make public policy that may benefit those contributors.

At a critical juncture in our history and our economy, when fundamental philosophical views need to be aired, debated and decided- we may, instead, be reacting to and basing our votes on the primal, negative personal attacks of politicians on one another.

That we will be hip-deep in this kind of swill from now until November can only increase the already deep cynicism the public feels about politics and government.  Watching how it’s actually playing out, a great public disservice may have been committed in the name of free speech when the Supreme Court made the Citizen’s United ruling. It is eroding -not helping- the function of a healthy democracy.