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Talking money

Published October 16, 2012 1:01 am

Negative TV ads swamp campaign
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jim Matheson and Mia Love both are dirty rotten scoundrels. Says who? It's all over the campaign ads on TV. And the mudfest isn't over. Who knows what the final three weeks of the campaign may bring?

For this you may thank the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority and its Citizens United decision, which opened the sluices for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend any amount they wish on election messages. All they need do is make sure they don't tell the candidates or their campaigns what they are doing. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.) However, it's fine for the super PACs (political action committees) and other independent electioneering outfits not associated directly with candidates or parties to conspire among themselves.

So far, these groups have spent some $3.4 million on the race in Utah's 4th Congressional District. That doesn't count the money raised and spent by the candidates themselves, nor does it include spending on so-called "issue" campaigns that only advocate for or against a candidate indirectly.

The effect of all this is that TV viewers are subjected to a stream of negative campaigning when they turn on the tube, particularly the traditional broadcast stations. The ads often feature exaggerations of the truth or distortions. That's nothing new in politics, of course, but the magnitude and cost of the broadcast broadsides is.

Aside from whether the messages are true, the candidates themselves will be influenced by these messages and who paid for them. The candidate who is successful will be indebted to the people who put up big money and produced the ads that helped to tip the election. You can bet that these chits will be called in Congress.

Unfortunately, the only ones who won't know who was behind the ads and what they may get in return from a newly elected member of Congress are the voters themselves. That's because disclosure requirements for these ads are spotty, and even investigative reporters can't always find out who is behind them by parsing Federal Election Commission reports.

Even people who traditionally opposed limits on campaign fundraising and spending traditionally stood up for disclosure and transparency. People should know who is footing the bills. But in the aftermath of Citizens United, and the political arms race it has spawned, even disclosure has gone by the wayside.

The only hope may be a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. But when millions of dollars are finding their way into campaigns in a single congressional race in Utah, don't count on that happening.