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.

This year we have a historic opportunity 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

  • 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.
  • Five Questions for the Next FCC Chief

    June 18, 2013

    Tom Wheeler, the White House’s pick to head the Federal Communications Commission, was for years a well-heeled lobbyist for cable and wireless companies. He also served the president’s 2008 and 2012 election campaigns as a top “bundler,” raising more than $700,000 from undisclosed donors in support of Obama.

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Actions

  • Hey FCC, Come Visit Me!

    It’s been five years since the FCC left Washington, D.C., in an official capacity to hear how its policies affect real people. It’s time for the agency to schedule meetings in communities around the country to give people a real voice in the policymaking process.

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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.
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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

  • No Justice Roberts, the Internet Can't Do Government's Job

    Sunlight Foundation
    April 4, 2014

    Writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s latest effort to dismantle the nation’s campaign finance system, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that government doesn’t need to restrain big money in politics because the Internet will. There are several problems with Roberts’ argument that the Internet will take care of big money in politics.

  • 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.

Learn More

  • Transparency and Accountability

    If you don't know how power works in this country — and you aren’t allowed to see the financial interests that often lurk behind prominent political voices — it's next to impossible to make meaningful decisions at the polls.
  • Public and Political File Inspections

    TV broadcasters use the public airwaves for free in exchange for a commitment to serve and inform their communities. If you want to know what your local broadcasters are doing to meet those obligations, the best place to look is their public files.

    And the political files broadcasters are required to maintain include essential information about who is buying political ads and how much they are paying.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good