Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My TiVo's Name Will Be SCOTUS

For those that missed it, the Supreme Court dealt a blow yesterday to those of us who want to remove money from politics. At issue was whether or not a special interest group was allowed to run an "issue ad" within 60 days of an election without complying with federal election law reporting requirements. Finding that the election law was a hindrance of speech, special interest groups (corporations, unions, advocacy groups) joined hands with shareholders of DVR manufacturers in rejoicing the SCOTUS.

This decision has a number of negative consequences for the vast majority of Americans. First and foremost is that a lobbyist will once again be able to walk in to a legislator's office with the unregulated expense report regarding how much their client spent to get the legislator in office. I work for one of the best television commercial production houses in the world, and people don't hire us because we're nice people (we're very nice). They hire us because we're damn good at what we do and they're expecting a return on their investment (a great ad to help them sell product). When it comes to election expenditures, special interests expect the same: votes for dollars spent. A few hundred thousand in exchange for a multi-million dollar earmark is a pretty good return on investment. A few hundred million for a multi-billion dollar no bid contract is even better.

Another issue is accountability for the ads. By declaring the 60 day rule unconstitutional, special interests won't have to identify who is paying for the ad. While many groups will want to have their name put on an ad (because it helps fundraising); those putting out false attack ads can come up with fluffy names for their vitriol, and if the truth ever comes out as to who did the ad the election will likely be over. It now rests on the Quality Assurance departments of the networks to determine if an ad is true or not, as they will be liable for running false advertising and also liable for bias for not running an ad even if it's patently false. I have a friend that handles that for a network, and they just "loved" it when I pointed that out last night.

This decision also bolsters the power of incumbency and aspirations of corrupt challengers. On one hand, an incumbent will no longer have to raise gobs of cash to compete, as they'll be able to place a call to a special interest group that loves them and say they need some ads. That's illegal; as it is coordinated communication, however don't think it doesn't happen. On the flip side, a challenger who has already sold their soul will be able to do the same in the event the incumbent doesn't play ball with the special interests.

Probably the most frustrating aspect of the decision, for me personally, is this virtually eliminates the ability of Independents to compete. Before my fundraising collapsed last year, we had a workable fundraising target to get a run or two of ads on basic cable. I have most of the equipment needed to shoot and edit ads, and had volunteers to direct and crew them. Renting a sound package and the media buy would have been the only expenses, and the media buy was surprisingly affordable. I would have been able to place a hold on advertising time, and then paid for the ads before they ran. All of this would have cost less than $40,000.

I fear that if I did decide to run again next year, and can raise money this time, with every imaginable special interest group now being able to bid on the same time, it will drive prices beyond what a modest Independent campaign can raise. What happens to my speech and that of my potential donors and supporters? How are we protected? The only Independent who may benefit from this ruling is Bloomberg, as now he can spend his personal fortune on organization and his corporation's money on ads.

If you think I'm overstating the consequences, remember that these were all the things that were going on in the 90's that prompted Washington to include the 60 day rule in the McCain-Feingold bill to begin with. The good news is, Congress can now revisit the issue and attempt to make it Constitutional within the SCOTUS ruling. My hope is they have the moral fortitude to get to work on this and they'll take care of it before the end of the year. However, I'm not going to hold my breath, and in the meantime I'm going to find out more about DVRs.

Most political ads are junk, both in production value and content; Elliot Spitzer & Michael Steele are recent exceptions. As much as I love watching a good commercial, is as fast as I change the channel when the average political ad comes on. The idea of the airwaves being over saturated with this pollution is nauseating.


NomDebPlume said...

You make some excellent points, but I'd like to mention something Justice Scalia said. He states that "McCain-Feingold has actually concentrated more political power in the hands of the country's wealthiest individuals through 527 groups".
And because 527's are not regulated, George Soros has spent tens of millions of dollars opposing Republican candidates.
(see: http://thenewsroom.com/details/442336?c_id=wom-bc-dv)

- Debi from The Political Desk at TheNewsRoom.com

rmfretz said...

Very good point. I'd like to see it where if you're going to spend the money, you have to report it along with who you really are, as opposed to hiding behind some shell group. That way, you're not prevented from saying it, yet the public can hold the elected official accountable for their votes vs. the cash spent on their behalf.

NomDebPlume said...

Absolutely! And wouldn’t it be prudent if those who voted actually took the time to investigate what types of beliefs came along with all that money? I hate to pick on Soros again, but do people really know what he wants for this country?

And do people even take the time to research what our candidates want? It’s frightening.

- Debi from The Political Desk at TheNewsRoom.com