SuperPAC Spending Will Inundate Citizens, Warns Tim Karr of FreePress

Tim Karr, Senior Strategy Director at FreePress, published a comprehensive report yesterday on campaign Ad spending entitled Citizens Inundated. In it, Karr features current projections for campaign spending and the over-sized influence this money is having on the Federal Communications Commission and local media outlets, particularly on television. His findings and recommendations are issues that, we at the Media Council feel, are worth sharing and applying here in Hawaii.

From the report,

Broadcast television is our most influential communications medium. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 78 percent of American viewers report getting their news from local TV on a typical day — more than the number that rely on newspapers, radio or the Internet. As such TV has been extremely popular with those seeking to manipulate public opinion.

Projections have estimated close to $3 billion in SuperPac spending for the 2012 election cycle. The Wall Street Journal is tracking the spending here. At the time of this post, it's already at $40,890,383. According to their breakdown, most of the money is in the Republican camp. Locally, GOP candidate and former Hawaii Gov., Linda Lingle's campaign for a Senate seat has collected $1.8 million in just three months. It may have voters curious if the candidates are (like garage rockers, JEFF the brotherhood) asking themselves, "just how much money can we spend?" Most of this money is expected to end up in the media.

It’s no exaggeration to say that election money is all about the media. And the funds are not limited to spending by Super PACs. Campaigns spend, too. For every dollar contributed to support Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, his campaign spent nearly 60 cents on media, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Yet for all this money pouring into media outlets, journalism jobs are still being lost by competent reporters, photographers and editors. Where the revenue is ending up, is ultimately an issue of transparency. The designation of the public inspection file has previously held this position to document the political Ad buys for broadcast stations. However as Karr, and Columbia's Steven Waldman have chronicled, the pen-and-ink log is an antiquated model. A recent push to require this information to uploaded online has sparked a backlash from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) - to the confusion of many. Waldman wrote yesterday,

One gets the strong sense that broadcasters are happy to have a “public inspection file” as long as the public is not actually inspecting it. For instance, four TV licensees (in San Diego, Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois) objected to a proposal that the public be notified on air about the existence of the file. “Such announcements may arouse the public’s interest in examining a PIF, but the Licensees do not believe that the Commission should attempt to stimulate such examinations.” Right. We wouldn’t want the public so “aroused” that they would, in their words, play “Sherlock Holmes” rather than engaging station managers in “productive dialogue.”

In the closing of his report, Karr offers four recommendations to readers, of which Media Council Hawaii is taking part:

  • Make Political Ad Spending Information Fully Available Online
  • Expose the Money Behind Front Groups in the Body of the Ads
  • Get Serious about Strategies to Foster Local Political Journalism
  • Strengthen Limits to Consolidated Broadcast Ownership
We encourage you to join us! The blog will be updated with more events like the Feb. 28th panel with NPR's Neal Conan, for you to participate in addressing these four areas.