Lots of money was spent in the past election. Don’t you wonder where it all went?
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney of The Nation have an excellent piece on the financing of the past campaign season called The Money & Media Election Complex.
The key point: Don’t expect television stations to ever represent the issues of an election campaign accurately, because they rake in so much money from political advertising. They will allow lies to flourish because it is in the financial interest of their corporate owners.
As the writers explain:
The most important yet least-recognized piece of the money-and-media election complex is the commercial broadcasting industry, which just had its best money-making election season ever. Political advertising has become an enormous cash cow for it—roughly two-thirds of the campaign spending this year flowed into the coffers of TV stations; the final figure is likely to be well above $2 billion. Whereas in the 1990s the average commercial TV station received about 3 percent of its revenues from campaign ads, this year campaign money could account for as much as 20 percent. And station owners are not missing a beat; thirty-second spots that went for $2,000 in 2008 were jacked up to $5,000 this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Much of this money will go to stations owned by a handful of Fortune 500 firms. No wonder station owners oppose campaign finance reform; their lobby role in Washington is similar to the NRA’s in battling bans on assault weapons.
TV journalists are becoming irrelevant. Instead of setting the tone of an election season, they are letting misleading ads set the tone. As a result, office seekers avoid answering reporters’ questions and buy time to continue to pound out their narrow messages.
But “as ads become the primary source of political information, we create a politics based on lies or, at best, decontextualized quarter-truths. Campaign ads are unregulated for truthfulness, unlike commercial advertising. Three decades ago Ogilvy and Mather executive Robert Spero determined that if political ads had to meet the same Federal Trade Commission criteria as commercial ads, all of them would be rejected as fraudulent. The regulation of commercial ads may be more lax today, but we doubt that any study of political ads in 2010 would regard them more favorably than Spero did.”
Congress will do nothing to stop this. In fact, legislators who were the most likely to raise the issue in the House and Senate lost in the past elections: It should come as no surprise that some of the most troubling results of 2010 involved the defeats of independent players of both parties who had battled hardest for clean politics and ethical government—Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the leading progressive Democratic reformer, was defeated, as was Representative Mike Castle, a moderate Republican beaten in Delaware’s GOP Senate primary by Tea Party heroine Christine O’Donnell.
And with the Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the same free-speech rights as individuals, businesses will use that money to promote issues and candidates that serve their interests, not the public interest.