Political advertising can lie and unfortunately there is no getting around it
A reader named Vicki Graber wanted to know if lying in an election ad was legal.
She formulated the question more politely, of course, and wrote in an email: “Why does the truth in advertising laws not apply to political advertising? This political advertising cycle is really absurd. I’m afraid it will do a lot of damage. Any thoughts on this question would be grateful. “
Here is the short answer: yes. Politicians can lie in campaign ads.
And they do.
It’s imperfectly legal.
Advertisement about Mark Kelly can be “wrong”, “absurd”
We have an ongoing controversy over something like this that’s going on in Arizona right now. Senator Martha McSally and the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacked Democrat Mark Kelly with a complaint alleging Kelly and World View, a company he was affiliated with, had $ 15 million in money from Pima County’s taxpayers and more or less put the money in their pockets and broke their promises about jobs.
Tim Steller, the Arizona Daily Start’s excellent columnist who knew the deal from the start, said of the ad.
“It’s an absurd claim, a lie indeed.”
World View has also sent a cease and desist statement to the TV stations that run the ad, asking them to stop broadcasting “false and defamatory” programs.
So why not
Basically, it’s because there’s no independent arbitrator to sort these things out. Candidates are allowed to lie, unlike the companies that sell you paper towels or potato chips.
But lies are safe speech
Consumers are protected by the truth in the advertising laws administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The commission has the power to do everything from fining a company to placing the advertisements.
It’s different with political ads. While the federal electoral commission requires television and radio advertising to contain information about who produced it, what is said in these advertisements is considered safe speech even if it is not true.
Claudia Haupt, Associate Professor of Law and Political Science at Northeastern University, sums it up: “Lies are protected in public discourse.”
Zachary Roth, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, is one of those who advocate a “neutral government regulator” responsible for ensuring that misinformation does not undermine our elections.
In Roth’s scenario, “this body would be empowered to block or punish false or significantly misleading campaign speeches – be it in the form of campaign ads or comments from candidates and their supporters”.
Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it?
And it is.
No evaluation board could be truly impartial
Except that such a commission would have to be created by politicians, many of whom are very fond of the idea of being able to lie. Furthermore, there is little chance that the same politicians will ever be ready or able to put together a truly independent commission.
Everyone would try to stack the deck. And then, even if the commission were made up of honest, sincere people, once a decision was made against a particular politician, any great man in his or her party would yell about bias and tarnish the commission’s reputation to the end of it worthless.
An effective campaign ad can ruthlessly criticize a candidate and still be completely truthful.
And some are.
Others twist the facts into a pretzel or an outright lie.
And this is the truth.
You can reach Montini at firstname.lastname@example.org.