Money, Media and Elections

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision launched a new era of big-money politics. The wealthiest 1 percent now has even more power to pick and choose our nation’s leaders. And they’re spending the bulk of this money on televised political ads designed to mislead voters. (Click here to see Free Press' infographic depicting this dysfunctional dynamic.)

So where’s the broadcast media in all of this? Instead of exposing this runaway spending and separating fact from fiction in an election year, they’re lining their pockets with the windfall from this massive ad buy … to the tune of more than $3 billion in 2012.

The reason so much money is spent on so many ads is that it’s a proven formula for success. In the 2008 election cycle, the candidate who spent more on a congressional campaign won the race more than nine out of 10 times. And while there’s some reporting on where money to influence elections originates, few people follow the billions of dollars spent by campaigns and Super PACs to the trail’s end:  the bank accounts of a handful of media corporations that control local television stations across the United States, with a daily viewing audience that numbers in the hundreds of millions.

We need to advance reforms that will shed more light on this problem while nurturing a media of, by and for the people. Free Press and our allies are working to hold broadcasters accountable to the public and give us the reporting we need to make informed decisions at the polls.

Blog Posts

  • File Under 'Much Needed': The FCC May Expand Its Political Ad Disclosure Rules

    August 11, 2014
    The Koch brothers will reportedly spend at least $250 million on the 2014 midterm elections — and that’s a conservative estimate. But while the Kochs may have the fattest wallet in the game, they’re hardly alone.
  • Money Changes Everything

    November 12, 2013

    There are all kinds of villains in life. Mosquitoes. Bad-hair days. People who lean on their car horns even though there’s no possible way outside of a James Bond movie you could make that left-hand turn without risking your own life, or at least the life of your elderly car.

  • What Ted Cruz Doesn't Want You to Know

    October 28, 2013
    By now it seems pretty clear that Sen. Ted Cruz has a plan to occupy the White House. But he doesn’t want people to know too much about it.
More »

Press Releases

  • Senate Confirms New FCC Chairman

    October 29, 2013
    WASHINGTON -- Late Tuesday, the Senate unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Michael O'Rielly was also confirmed as a commissioner.
  • Public Interest Groups Urge FCC to Continue Improving Political Ad Transparency

    August 26, 2013

    WASHINGTON -- On Monday, the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition (PIPAC), whose members include the Benton Foundation, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Free Press, the New America Foundation and the United Church of Christ Office of Communication Inc., along with the Center for Effective Government and the Sunlight Foundation, filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission about the agency’s rules requiring broadcasters to post their political files online.

  • Free Press Report Examines the Absence of Political Ads on Spanish-Language TV

    November 2, 2012
    On Friday, Free Press released Missing Out: Political Ads, Spanish-Language TV and the Latino Vote, a report analyzing political ad spending in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida and New Mexico. Political ad buys have skyrocketed to record-breaking levels nationwide, and much of that money is being spent in swing states, particularly by Super PACs and other third-party groups. But in the three states studied, Free Press found that few political ads have aired on Spanish-language stations.
More »

Resources

  • Six Priorities for the Wheeler FCC

    As Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly arrive at the Federal Communications Commission, they face historic challenges and opportunities to shape the ways we connect and communicate for decades to come.

    Here’s how the FCC should ensure that our public network and public airwaves provide better choices and more voices — by maintaining universal communications service, increasing media diversity, supporting local news and emphasizing political transparency.

    November 6, 2013
  • Public Interest Groups Urge FCC to Continue Improving Political Ad Transparency

    The Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition ("PIPAC"), whose members include the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Free Press, the Benton Foundation, the New America Foundation and the Office of Communication, Inc. of the United Church of Christ, along with the Sunlight Foundation, filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission about the agency’s rules requiring broadcasters to post their political files online.

    August 26, 2013
  • Missing Out: Political Ads, Spanish-Language TV and the Latino Vote

    The Free Press report Missing Out: Political Ads, Spanish-Language TV and the Latino Vote examines political ad spending in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida and New Mexico.

    November 2, 2012
More »

News from Around the Web

  • Campaign Ad Cash Lures Buyers to Swing-State TV Stations

    New York Times
    July 8, 2013

    The increasingly expensive elections that play out across the country every two years are making stations look like a smart investment, with the revenue piling up each time a candidate says, “I approve this message.”

  • David Sirota Moderates Discussion On Campaign Finance Reform, Democracy In Colorado

    Huffington Post
    March 7, 2013

    Political columnist and former Denver radio personality David Sirota is back in Denver moderating a panel on campaign finance reform in his first public event since leaving the Denver airwaves. On March 7, Sirota will be discussing how democracy is doing in the swing-state of Colorado and in the United States at large in this post-Citizens United altered political landscape.

  • Snow Job?

    Columbia Journalism Review
    January 3, 2013

    In the 2012 election, Denver broadcasters accepted an avalanche of political ads and the attendant windfall of revenue. Where did that money go, and what happens next time?

Learn More

  • Fighting Media Consolidation

    The more independent outlets a community has, the more different viewpoints will be presented on the air. But what happens when there’s no one left to compete?
  • Covert Consolidation

    When you turn on the nightly news, you expect to find competing viewpoints and different perspectives from one station to the next. But in communities across the country, stations that were once fierce competitors have cut staff and merged their newsrooms, in many cases airing the same content on multiple stations in the same market. You can try to change the channel, but all you'll see is the exact same newscast.

  • Rupert Murdoch Scandal

    There are many reasons the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has riveted public attention around the world. It's a story that features all of the classic elements: crimes, betrayal, abuse of power and even a cover-up.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good