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What can be done about deceptive third-party attack ads?

May 15, 2012

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

So far in this campaign season, we’ve seen a Democratic National Committee ad take Republican Mitt Romney’s remark “I enjoy firing people” out of context; we’ve seen two outside groups equate the health care debate to pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff; and we’ve seen a group called the Red, White and Blue Fund accuse President Obama of “funding radicals with bad intentions.” And those are only a few of the many inaccurate or misleading third-party attack ads that have been aired.

If it seems as if the amount of negativity in presidential campaigns is on the rise, that’s because it is. According to a study at Wesleyan University, about 70 percent of advertisements in the current presidential campaign have been negative. Compare this to the same point during the 2008 presidential election, when only 9 percent of ads were considered negative.

A big factor, the study says, might be the 2009 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to make unlimited donations to outside groups known as super PACs to support or attack candidates. The court said political spending was a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

Now you might be wondering – what’s a PAC, and what makes it super? A PAC – political action committee – is a group that campaigns for political change on specific issues, but does not represent a candidate. A super PAC can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but must disclose its donors. So the people with lots of money – from millionaire individuals to wealthy companies – can make unlimited donations to outside groups, and the PACs have lots of ammo to get their (negative) message out.

Critics argue that these groups’ ads pollute political discourse in the United States with misinformation and deception.

When an ad comes from a candidate seeking federal office, broadcasters are required to air it, unless the ad is found to violate FCC decency standards (through extreme profanity and imagery). With outside spending groups, broadcasters have the right to insist on the accuracy of any of the ads they run, and they have the right to refuse ads that are inaccurate. You can read more about this at our website FlackCheck.org’s Stand By Your Ad page.

Are you tired of seeing inaccurate or deceptive campaign ads? Would you like to make change for the 2012 presidential election? Go to FlackCheck.org to contact stations in your area and tell them your thoughts on inaccurate third-party ads and how you’d like to see them stop.

What do you think?

Are there too many negative ads in the presidential election? Why do you think candidates use negative ads? What effect do you think those ads have on politics and government in America? Do you think stations should be stricter about policing third-party ads for accuracy? Do you agree with the Supreme Court that political spending is protected speech? Join the discussion!
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Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
Obviously there are too many negative ads in presidential elections. I think it's ridiculous that the elections have become more about intangibles than about the daunting social and economic issues facing our country. Candidates focus on making other candidates look foolish with the use of these negative ads. In my opinion, broadcasters and radio stations should have the right to run or not run ads based on the content. Like Kortney said, these negative ads only make the candidates themselves look bad. If 70% of advertisements in the presidential election of 2012, it is obviously a problem. I do agree with the Supreme Court for the most part that this is protected speech, but there should be some regulations that prevent deceptive third party attacks.

Sidney, Montana
Mr. Faulhaber, Sidneg High School
I believe negative ads should not be used. The ads are inaccurate and have flaws in the information. Although the ads help the other candidates, the negative ads make politicians look low and that they are trying to undermine others. The third party ads often show misleading or incorrect. Stations should be stricter and not allow these third party ads. Once again third party ads should be restricted and not allowed.

Mr. Faulhaber/SHS
I believe that there are too many negative ads in the presidential election. As the article stated, 70 percent of the ads in the 2012 election were negative compared to the 9 percent in the 2008 election. I think candidates use negative ads to make themself look better as a person, when in all reality it is just making them look bad if its a false accusation. Although I agree that political spending is protective speech due to the first amendment, I don't think that it is right to let candidates continuously bash eachother with lies and negativity. There are things that need to be limited and not aired at all, just like there are things that people can't say because it's derogatory. Same goes for presidential or any other election. I disagree with Caleb completely, due to the fact that airing a bunch of lies isn't right, nor should be allowed. Therefore, I believe that stations should be stricter about policing third-parrty ads for accuracy. People do believe whatever they see on television or the internet, and lying about a candidate could ultimately end in choosing the wrong person to do the job.

Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
There are definitely too many negative ads in the presidential election. Candidates use negative ads for the sole purpose of ruining the image of their opponent. Just like Taylor said, these ads are often times untrue, but candidates are only concerned with their own personal image. These ads have a degrading effect on politics and government in America. It is no surprise that a majority of Americans only have negative things to say about the government and those running it when the majority of the ads on television are negative. Other Americans probably get fed up with these negative ads and totally tune them out. On another note, stations need to be stricter about policing third-party ads for accuracy. The text says that, "broadcasters have the right to insist on the accuracy of any of the ads they run, and they have the right to refuse ads that are inaccurate." Although this safeguard is in place, several ads have snuck threw that could definitely be considered inaccurate. Broadcasters need to redefine what 'inaccurate' means and filter these negative ads accordingly. Lastly, I agree with the Supreme Court's ruling that political spending is protected speech. However, I do not think super PACs should be allowed to receive an unlimited amount of funding to help them support or attack candidates. There should be a cap set on money given to super PACs. Limiting the amount of money groups like super PACs can get and revamping the broadcasters' ad filters are two simple solutions to reducing third-party attack ads.

Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
I believe that there are too many negative ads in presidential campaigns, but I also believe they are unavoidable. These ads are used by PAC's who receive money from candidates to make the opposing candidate look bad. I don't think we can really have these races without these ads, so trying to get rid of them would be pointless. Instead, we should try and get truthful ads out, and overrun the negative with positive. We also can't get rid of them because of the First Amendment, so fighting back with positivity is our best bet. I agree with Melissa because these ads can be fact checked by those willing to do the research, but honestly how many people are really going to do that? It's something but these negative ads will really reach those it's supposed to, the one who aren't as politically involved. There is not much we can do against these negative political ads, no matter how many people dislike them, so we must do our best job to try and discredit them with truthful, positive political ads.

Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
Negative ads are definitely an unethical way of campaigning. You should not make yourself seem like a more worthy choice by pointing out the other's flaws. You should be doing what a politician should be doing and be explaining how you plan to make this country a better and safer place to live in. These ads also tend to be false or misleading, and like Holly and Melissa have both stated, they should be regulated and checked for factuality. The people need to decide how they want to vote based on how the candidates decide to handle issues, not on how flawed each of them may be.

Sidney, Montana
Mr.Faulhaber/Sidney High School
I believe there are too many negative and inaccurate ads in all-governmental races. These ads exist because politicians want to win and playing to the heart of the American people is the best way to gather votes. However, to the small minority of Americans that understand what is actually going on in politics, it is a slap in the face. I believe this because these ads cause uneducated voters to cast inaccurate votes. This makes for a poor democracy. Thomas Jefferson said, “If we're going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well educated and healthy citizenry.” To counteract this problem of inaccuracies, ads must be checked so they are factually correct. I also want to stress that the article says, "A big factor, the study says, might be the 2009 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission." I want to stress the MIGHT in the aforementioned statement. It does not prove that the Supreme Court ruling caused an increase in inaccurate television ads. Therefore, as Taylor stated it, I agree that the Supreme Court ruling was correct in its decision that political spending is protected speech.

Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
I believe that there are too many negative ads in the presidential election. The point of an elections shouldn't be to insult another candidate, it should be to present yourself and your morals in the best way possible to win an election. I think candidates use negative ads to show the public the bad things their opponents are responsible for, even if they are untrue, and to make themselves look better. Those ads effect politics and government in America by setting the example that it is okay to lie about one's colleagues. This would make people involved in the government more wary about each other and less would get accomplished. Negative ads can ruin a candidate's credibility in America, and that is not fair. Stations should be stricter about policing third-party ads for accuracy because America does not deserve to be lied to. I agree with the Supreme Court that political spending is protected speech, but the amount groups are allowed to spend should be limited. I believe that the 2009 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was wrong because there shouldn't even be super PACs in the first place. I agree with Holly in this way. It is not fair that wealthy people can contribute way more money to outside groups. They could contribute to negative statements, which degrades our society.

Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
I do believe there are too many negative ads in the presidential election. I do not like the use of negative ads and I not think they should be used in campaigning. These ads have too much of a negative effect on candidates and are often times false statements. I think they should not be able to have "super PAC's". Having unlimited amounts of campaign money is for one, a waste of money, and two, letting campaigners put out their positive message but also too many negative messages about their opponent. Political spending is a protected speech but I do believe it should not be unlimited. I agree with Melissa from California, these ads should be checked and regulated if they are being untruthful or over exaggerated.

They can be fact checked and regulated for being untruthful, or they can just have other ads to counter and discredit them.

watertown MA
Rimas/Watertown high School
This falls into our freedom speech amendment. I think the aired of negative ads is good and it should continue because it's a perfect example of our freedom of speech. If people want to believe the ads it's up to them.

Rudyard, MT
Campbell/ North Star
One of our inalienable rights is the right of free speech, which means we can say what we want, when we want. So I believe that these negative ads cant be unaired just because someone it's against someone. The airing of these commercials should be entirely up to the television/ radio stations.

There are not really that much negative ads in the presidential election because then nobody would have a reason to vote, candidates use negative ads to throw off their competitor. The effects that the ads have on politics and government in America is the action of placing a vote.

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