Because of the widely unpopular Citizens United decision by the Roberts' Supreme Court, which held that corporate funding of campaign ads cannot be limited under the First Amendment, this 2010 midterm election cycle is seeing five times more outside spending than occurred in the last midterm. As noted in Bill Mann's Huffington Post piece, the real beneficiaries of all that spending are broadcasters (broadcasters who have a legal obligation to serve the public interest.)
"The people who are making most -- over 90%, by most estimates -- of the money from all the obnoxious and ubiquitous ads this fall have names unfamiliar to most people: Belo, Young Broadcasting, Cox, Fisher Broadcasting, Media General. And big names, of course, like ABC, Tribune, Gannett, NBC Universal."
But there are a lot of other names which are unfamiliar to most people, names like "American Crossroads". "America's Families First Action Fund." "American Action Network." "Commonsense Ten." (These, according to the Washington Post, are among the biggest special interest group midterm spenders.)
That leads me to question the value of the current idea in Washington that by merely "disclosing" who is funding campaign ads, voters will somehow be able to separate fact from fiction. As Meredith McGeeHee notes on the Campaign Legal Center blog,
"Congress should take heed of the Supreme Court's 8-to-1 ruling in Citizens United in favor of disclosure, stating that such disclosure is not only constitutional, but is the expected and indeed necessary counter-balance to the new corporate right to expend unlimited funds in US elections.
"Justice Kennedy's 8-1 majority Opinion stated on
this point: 'The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure
permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities
in a proper way.
This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages."
The problem is that outside the Beltway, a majority of people who are watching local TV news peppered with campaign ads don't even know who George Soros is. Lindsay Lohan, yes, Dick Armey? Doubtful. Really, just disclosing who paid for ads is no match for the magic of Madison Avenue Mad Men.