The Campaign Ad Wars: How Do We Cover Them?
With less than two months before Election Day, America’s airwaves are under full-scale bombardment. Voters in the crucial swing states that will decide control of the White House and Congress face a fusillade of mostly negative TV ads, not only from the Obama and Romney campaigns but from new outside organizations such as super PACs and nonprofits. The reshaped campaign finance system has brought an unprecedented volume of TV advertising, from sources that are more varied and more secretive than at any time in the modern era.
Much more is coming. Last week, a report by Moody’s predicted that more than $3 billion will be spent in the current election cycle on political ads, boosting their share of broadcasters’ annual revenues from historical norms of 6-7 percent to as high as 9 percent. Much of this influx comes from super PACs, which despite legal restrictions often retain indirect ties to political campaigns, and nonprofits, which are not required to disclose their donors. As the Center for Responsive Politics, in partnership with The Daily Beast, pointed out this week, some 844 super PACs alone currently exist. Even more striking: only 100 distinct donors account for nearly 59 percent of the $350 million raised by these entities so far.
These ads mean to shape our future, and both national and local journalists have a large role to play in covering them. Citizens deserve answers about who is paying for the ads and what those donors might want; what the ads say and how fairly they say it; and, though a distant third, the horserace questions about how effective they are.