The Ad Industry Needs to Step Up

The crazy campaign spending in this election is not only bad for candidates — of all parties — who have to spend so much time and effort raising money. It is also bad for our economy , as the campaign spending war drains money away from consumer spending, replenishing depleted savings, reducing personal debt, investments of all kinds and — most of all — charitable giving.

So-called “dark money” — the source of which is not publicly disclosed — is particularly harmful to the democratic process, as voters are not able to judge the message if we don’t know the source. The U.S. “Supreme” Court is preventing national and state election authorities from limiting campaign spending or requiring disclosure of the source of money behind ads.

But there is nothing to prevent the sellers of advertising from requiring truthful and transparent ads.  In fact, since 1971, purveyors of advertising have participated in self-regulation through the newly renamed Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, formerly the National Advertising Review Council. On its Web site, ( the Council says,

“Self-regulation is good for consumers. The self-regulatory system monitors the marketplace, holds advertisers responsible for their claims and practices and tracks emerging issues and trends.
Self-regulation is good for advertisers. Rigorous review serves to encourage consumer trust; the self-regulatory system offers an expert, cost-efficient, meaningful alternative to litigation and provides a framework for the development of a self-regulatory to emerging issues.”

On the same Web site, the only reference to political advertising is a disclaimer on the National Advertising Division page explaining consumer complaints, which says the standards and self-regulation do not apply to issue or political advertising.

Broadcasters in particular are raking in the dough from this insane campaign spending, but print media, direct mail, online and billboard advertisers are also boosting their sales. The unregulated, obfuscating messages threaten to do supreme harm to our electoral process and our society at large.

I call on the Advertising Industry to use its self-regulatory process to disclose the source of every campaign ad, and to monitor the accuracy of every claim in a political ad.  All of the reasons the advertising industry banded together to self-regulate 39 years ago are doubly applicable to the crisis in confidence in our electoral process today.


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