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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 6/12/12

Did Our Public Airwaves "Win" it for Walker?

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Whatever questions remain about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's recall election, there is no question that his campaign was built on big money, the likes of which we've never seen in a gubernatorial campaign before. And where did all that money go?  Right into thin air -- our air. 

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And as owners of the air -- our public airwaves, to be precise -- there is plenty we can do to combat the corrosive effect of big money on our elections, by holding our partners in broadcasting, local TV and radio stations, accountable to the communities they serve.

Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment prohibits government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, is the reason huge amounts of money poured into the Walker camp from third parties like the billionaire Koch Brothers and others, (compared to the relatively paltry sum given to his opponent Mayor Tom Barrett by unions and others.)

As previously noted by The Brad Blog:

Focus will turn to the unprecedented amount of dark money raised and spent in the election, with Walker's campaign raising at least $30.5 million (a majority of it coming from out of state) to Barrett's $3.9 million. That, of course, is just the money raised by the two campaigns themselves. It doesn't take into affect the extraordinary amount of money spent by outside groups on behalf of the candidates, largely in support of Walker by a reportedly outsized ratio of 25 to 1.

So the Walker recall gave us the first glimpse at how the infamous Supreme Court ruling will affect campaigns for years to come unless something changes.  There is a large and growing movement now from groups like Move to Amend, to amend the Constitution to alter the unlimited spending allowed by Citizens United.  Such an effort, however, will take years to accomplish, if it ever happens at all.

But what's not being talked about is where most of this money goes: about half of all campaign dollars go directly into into our local radio and TV stations' wallets -- local broadcast stations which get licensed in the public/private partnership of broadcasting only if they "serve the public convenience, interest, and necessity." 

As to the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has also ruled in Red Lion v. FCC that "it is the right of the viewing and listening public, and not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount."

Nonetheless, until Citizens United is changed or overridden in some fashion, things are only going to get worse -- unless we the people do something about it now with a few, still-unused tools that remain at our disposal...

The Public Files

In the fall general election, we will see an unprecedented amount of money going into local TV stations and their giant corporate owners.  Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, estimates as much as $3.3 billion will be directed to local TV advertising this fall.

Exactly how much money went into local TV spots during the Walker recall?  Well, we own the public airwaves, so all we have to do to find out is to walk into our local TV stations in Wisconsin and demand to see their political files. (This autumn, under a new rule enacted by the FCC, the top 50 TV markets will be required to post that information online for easier public access. Stations really do not wish to comply, so the National Association of Broadcasters has filed a lawsuit to prevent it from happening, and Republicans in Congress have inserted language into an appropriations bill hoping to bar the FCC from implementing it.

But then, as now, we still will have the right to physically inspect those public files, kind of like a landlord has the right to inspect his property.  (People may need to stand up to management to demand their rights, as a Media Action Center Wisconsin group did recently, as seen in this video. WTMJ TV and Radio in Milwaukee initially denied the group entrance into their building, but the station manager eventually came to his senses and allowed them access.  The FCC levies heavy fines for denying the public access to TV and radio files.)

Political files must include:

1) The name of the group sponsoring the ad
2) Its principal officers or its directors
3) Whether the request to buy time was accepted or rejected
4) If the schedule was accepted, the date and approximate time the spots will run
5) The class of time purchased
6) The rate charged
7) The name of the candidate to which the ad refers
8) After the spots have run, the exact time the spots ran

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Sue Wilson tells important stories which move politicians to act. The Emmy winning director of the media reform documentary "Broadcast Blues" and editor of, Sue recently founded the Media Action Center. Wilson was 1987's (more...)

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