Saturday, November 15, 2003

stand by your ad letters: wapo and nyt have articles on stand by your ad,
section 311 of bcra. posted here while i work on a letter in response; do not distribute further without approval.

Stating Obvious Could Limit Negative Ads

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 13, 2003; 5:17 PM

WASHINGTON - The simple sentence in this year's political ads elicits a slap-your-head, "duh" response from any television viewer - "I'm Howard Dean (or John Edwards or John Kerry or Joe Lieberman or Dick Gephardt) and I approved this message."

The line may be stating the obvious, but it's the law now - and some political observers argue that it could deter candidates from the mudslinging commercials that marked past elections.

The campaign finance law that went into effect last November required candidates for federal office to appear in their paid ads, identify themselves and tell voters that they approved the message. It was known as the "Stand By Your Ad" provision.

Since then, presidential candidates who have touted their health care plans or ideas for job growth, or even argued that they alone have the leadership qualities for the nation's chief executive, have had to utter the somewhat clumsy, undeniable line.

As the campaign moves into the primary season - and the competition grows more fierce - candidates often resort to harsh criticism. Next year's election and its commercials may be different, due to the requirement that candidates make the statement.

"It will result in at least some hesitation when candidates make decisions to run negative ads because they're going to have to take responsibility for that ad on the air," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C.

For a number of years, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., worked with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in pushing for the provision to be included in the final campaign finance bill, in part because of the argument that the public should know who is behind the attack ads.

Durbin said it will have a sobering influence.

"I will bet this: there will be moments in the studios when the candidates say to the producers of the ads, 'I'll be damned if I'm going to put my face on that,'" Durbin said.

Political operatives say the requirement won't eliminate attack ads altogether, but it might soften their tones.

David Eichenbaum, media consultant for former presidential candidate Bob Graham, said that it will be difficult for a candidate to take responsibility for an ad that criticizes his opponent without hurting the candidate's own reputation.

As a result, he said, "The negative ads will be a lot less direct, a lot weaker this year."

But Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles media adviser for Democratic candidate Dick Gephardt, said he doesn't believe the change will blunt the frequency or force of negative ads. "I don't think anybody's going to be dissuaded from that," Carrick said.

He and other ad makers say the requirement causes them headaches - and not just because the phrase is repeated so often.

Jim Margolis, media consultant for Democratic candidate John Kerry, said ad creators now must try to sell a message using fewer words and seconds. A 30-second spot typically has no more than 70 words in it. The slogan, "I'm John Kerry and I approved of this ad," uses up nine words and about four seconds.

"That's a lot of time we're spending doing other stuff instead of talking about what we want to talk about," Margolis said.

The law also says candidates who refer to their opponents in ads and fail to follow the rules won't be able to buy air time from stations at their lowest rates available.

"It now says you have to pay more to bash people," said Don Simon, an attorney for Common Cause, a group that favored campaign finance reform.

But attorney Floyd Abrams claims the provision is unconstitutional because it determines a price based on what a commercial says.

"It's a punishment for speech - no lowest unit rate unless you have more disclosure than you would otherwise have," said Abrams, who is representing Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others trying to overturn much of the law.

The Supreme Court is reviewing it and could decide shortly on its fate. Both supporters and opponents of the claim say - as Abrams put it - "the very awkward and somewhat dumb-sounding statement" - will remain intact.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?