Read fine print on political ads

Posted by Tyler Reny

It's election season again. The media finally has something more pertinent to talk about than Lindsay Lohan's release from prison or Lady Gaga's meat dress. Now ideologically conflicting pundit's can yell at each other as they try and predict the outcome of November's elections. But who's really going to win? Who knows! We can only be sure that Christine O'Donnell dabbled in witchcraft as a teen.

With election season, however, comes a far more annoying phenomenon: political advertisements. They are omnipresent and obnoxious as hell. Some try to scare the elderly by exposing Obamacare as a Medicare killing behemoth. Others warn of the job slaying effects of any bills that would help wean us off of fossil fuels.

What is more important than the often-misleading messages of these advertisements is the nearly illegible funding groups that pop up at the bottom of the screen during the last few seconds of the ad.

The group often has a pleasant grass-rootsy-sounding name like Americans for Job Security but, too often, turns out to be a front group for wealthy donors or corporations who want to quietly and anonymously funnel large amounts of money toward influencing legislation or political campaigns.

The ads raise the important issue of disclosure. Who is funding these ads? What do they stand to win or lose? Due to loopholes in current campaign finance law, we often don't know.

Americans for Job Security, for example, was founded by Republican business interests in 1997 and because of its non-profit status can raise unlimited funds and is exempt from having to disclose its donors. The group, which sounds like a grassroots job security advocacy organization, is actually a single employee front for conservative interests that funnels money ($6.1 million last year) into politically charged issue advocacy.

Perhaps the most influential and least known corporation, famous for quietly donating astonishing amounts of money to deceivingly titled front groups, is Koch Industries, the $100 billion dollar conglomerate from Kansas.

Koch Industries owns a variety of different companies, from Brawny towels to Dixie cups, but collects the majority of its profits from oil and gas pipelines and refineries around the country. It is the second largest private corporation in the U.S. and has made its owners, the Koch brothers, Charles and David, some of the richest men in America, with a combined wealth of about $35 billion.

The brothers, who have spent an estimated $100 million on issue advocacy, have recently been credited with funding the climate change denial machine. Greenpeace has reported that between 2005 and 2008 the corporation funneled $24.8 million to about 35 distinct groups that have fought to discredit the science behind global climate change.Their political action committee has given about $5.7 million to conservative Congressmen and spent $37.9 million on direct lobbying.

As the Greenpeace report puts it, Koch Industries' "tight knit network of lobbyists, former executives and organizations has created a forceful stream of misinformation that Koch-funded entities produce and disseminate. This campaign propaganda is then replicated, repackaged and echoed many times throughout the Koch-funded web of political front groups and think tanks."

When you see those ads lambasting the "questionable science" behind global climate change or "job killing" government initiatives funded by organizations with names like The Institute for Energy Research, just be aware that much of their funding often comes from greedy billion-dollar corporations who fear a potential threat to their bottom lines.

A functioning democracy requires the transparency that comes from better disclosure laws. Citizens must know just who stands to win or lose on a given issue. Last week Senate Democrats tried to push a bill through Congress that would require corporations and unions to disclose how they spent their money in political campaigns. The bill quietly died when the GOP blocked the bill from coming to a vote and accused the Democrats of ignoring the larger issues. Republicans clearly don't want us to know who pays their bills.

Tyler Reny is a senior government major who enjoys good food, politics and jazz.

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