It’s the lull before the storm, so enjoy it, because as summer wanes and politicking cranks up in earnest prior to the November presidential election, the airwaves will be so saturated with ads we’ll want to emulate Elvis and put a slug through the telly.
It’s estimated that $2 billion will be spent on presidential campaign advertising on TV alone — a veritable goldmine for TV stations. In the presidential primaries, it was reported that demand was so heavy TV stations didn’t have enough available airtime to go around.
And, thanks to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that undid decades of constitutional law on campaign contributions, corporations, unions, and assorted millionaires and billionaires with ideological axes to grind are funneling vast amounts of money into political action committees on both sides of the fence (there are now an estimated 4,000-plus PACs and Super PACs).
A large chunk of those funds go for attack ads, using innuendo and out-of-context actions and statements to paint each candidate as an incompetent charlatan who should never be allowed near the White House. Truth takes a back seat to slime when the professional spinmeisters hold sway.
In the primaries, more than $10 million was spent by a pro-Romney PAC in just two states to air ads slamming Newt Gingrich’s political “baggage,” while a Las Vegas casino billionaire gave a reported $10 million-plus for Gingrich ads inferring that Romney wasn’t the best person to oust Obama from the presidency.
The candidates themselves are, technically, according to what few rules are left, supposed to have no direct association with the PACs/Super PACs or the advertisements that they finance. But, of course, in politics there are ways to skirt almost any rule. And even when candidates insist they have no control over the PAC ads, it’s a rare occasion when they denounce them or seek to have them withdrawn.
There’s an oft-repeated story that Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., once started a college lecture by writing on the blackboard the three most essential ingredients for a political party: “Money, money, money.”
And while we may gape in awe at the sums spent on presidential politics, running for Congress doesn’t come cheap either. In the 2010 election cycle, the average spent by candidates for the House was $1.6 million, for the Senate $3.2 million, a large portion of that for TV ads.
All that money has to come from somewhere, and it’s a less than well-kept secret that, once elected, members of Congress spend large chunks of each week attending fund raisers, or doing basic telemarketing, phoning wealthy individuals to solicit money to help keep themselves in office.
Will Rogers famously observed, “America has the best politicians that money can buy.” He also said, “If you ever injected truth into politics, you’d have no politics.”
We’re likely to see the wisdom of both statements as this election year moves forward.