It’s August, and the Dogs Are Eating the Dogs

The traditional August lull in election-year ads is a thing of the past, writes Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press. This month along, Americans will be blitzed with more than $60 million in political commercials put together by the Bush camp and by Kerry sympathizers.

While the messages may be clear, just who is underwriting them is another matter. The Bush camp, says Sidoti, will spend at least $30 million on radio and TV spots. To save money, the Kerry campaign itself won’t buy ad time until next month. But into that breach has rushed the Democratic National Committee, which expects to spend more than $20 million in August, and “other liberal groups” which have committed more than $11 million for advertising, according to Sidoti.

Those “other liberal groups” include primarily the so-called “527” organizations which, under federal election law, must be independent of the candidates or political parties and focus their message solely on issues. While many of these 527s (named for a section of the tax code that covers them) have been created to support Democrats, the GOP also has benefited from them.

But thanks to a lack of guidelines and/or enforcement by the Federal Election Commission, the ads have rapidly moved away from a discussion of policy and issues. “Many interest groups running ads this year have one goal -help elect or defeat one of the candidates,” writes Sidoti.

Consider, for example, ads produced by the now-notorious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a 527 organization, and the rapid response from, another 527, demanding that Bush disassociate his campaign from the veterans’ claims.

Sidoti declares that such content is in marked contrast to past years “when [political-action] advertising was designed mostly to promote issues, such as abortion rights.”

Is that so? Perhaps Sidoti is too young to remember Willie Horton. Nothing wrong with that — as long as her editor isn’t.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.