Campaign Ads Aren't Supposed to Turn a Profit

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In a Washington Times op-ed piece, economist John Lott and former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith portray Air America as a scheme to avoid campaign finance restrictions by disguising long commercials for Democratic candidates as talk radio programming. "With $41 million in losses since 2004, and $9.8 million owed just to Robert Glaser, RealNetworks' chairman, Democrats who bankrolled this 'company' weren't so much investors as campaign contributors," they write. "With McCain-Feingold's 'hard money' donation limits of $2,000 per candidate and 'soft money' limits to party campaign committees of $57,500, there is no way that Mr. Glaser or other wealthy Democratic donors could have legally given such large sums directly to Democrats."

This end run around McCain-Feingold would, like the NRA's foray into talk radio, be understandable, even admirable, if it weren't for the fact that the people responsible for it supposedly favor the restrictions they're dodging (just as 527 mega-donor George Soros supposedly wants to stop rich guys like himself from having a disproportionate influence on elections). Instead of demanding that this gaping loophole be closed, Lott and Smith suggest tearing it wide enough to accommodate anyone who has a political message to communicate: "We'll call it the First Amendment solution…Deregulate the system, let the voters hear what people (even those with 'big money') have to say, and trust the voters to choose wisely. The alternative is to extend restrictions to the press."

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  1. Yeah, I’m going to give millions of dollars to have Al freakin’ Franken stump for my candidate. What could be better than an $8 million political ad by Jeneane Garofalo?

  2. But what is the Washington Times other than a $1 billion and counting ad for the Republican Party? That said, I’d do away with all limitations on political spending–soft money, hard money, and all.

  3. Sometimes, I like to listen to all the various Air America hosts and try to decide which one is the worst radio person (totally avoiding the politicalnessocity of what they’re saying.) My current leader is Ed Schultz. It’s like listening to the John Riggins show (i.e. terrible production value and host who clearly isn’t on radio because he’s good on radio), only with less football and more smugness. He is a slightly better interviewer than Riggo, however.

  4. How did Bradley Smith ever get to be chairman of the FEC? He obviously thinks too much to be a government drone.

  5. While I’m taking this opportunity to once again bash AA, since I’m new to the area, can any DC area reasonites point me toward GOOD talk radio of any sort? Right now, I’ve got Mike & Mike on the drive in and Penn Gilette after 7 with nothing to look forward to during drivetime. Don & Mike fit okay sometimes, but I find that they’re very uneven and I’m not always in the mood. Ideas?

  6. Legate Damar,

    As a fellow DCer (NoVA, actually), may I recommend CDs or MP3s? Sorry, but after almost a decade here, that’s my best advice.

  7. That John Lott is brilliant. Handsome, too.

  8. Legate:

    It’s a fucked up time slot, but Mark Levine is on WMAL 630 (AM) at 6:00 PM. I’ve only listened to his show a few times, but enjoyed every minute of it. The guy is a right-wing tool, but hugely entertaining. His rant is perfect.

    And Sean Hannity is great, too, if you like listening to someone obediantly read off the daily RNC talking points.

  9. In a Washington Times op-ed piece, economist John Lott and former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith portray Air America as a scheme to avoid campaign finance restrictions by disguising long commercials for Democratic candidates as talk radio programming.

    Really? And just what do they call the right-wing squawk radio shows run by Hannity, Limbaugh, Medved, Savage, et al?

  10. In addition to being a former FEC Chairman, Prof. Smith is also the Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. For anyone who happens to be interested in this issue, we’ve posted some more legal analysis here: http://www.campaignfreedom.org/blog/id.102/blog_detail.asp

  11. may I recommend CDs or MP3s? Sorry, but after almost a decade here, that’s my best advice.

    I’ve never heard of these shows, are they conservative or liberal?

  12. Oh, and also on WMAL in the morning, there is Fred Grandy (Gopher from Love Boat) who was a Republican Congressman at one point (Iowa).

    He is every bit as affable as his TV character, and doesn’t take himself seriously (a huge distinction in right-wing radio). He also is quite centrist, in speaking out against the flag burning amendment and gay bashing. He speaks mostly from the middle, which again is refreshing.

  13. And just what do they call the right-wing squawk radio shows run by Hannity, Limbaugh, Medved, Savage, et al?

    Akira,

    None of this is old news, I’m merely surprised that people are making the argument against the left.

    Although I haven’t read the entire article, if you read the entire blog post you’ll catch this:

    Instead of demanding that this gaping loophole be closed, Lott and Smith suggest tearing it wide enough to accommodate anyone who has a political message to communicate:

    It seems to me that Lott et. al. are merely making a point by complaining about AA, they’re not suggesting they be burned for CFR violations.

    I should also note that there was a fairly high profile case here in Seattle where a conservative was direclty nicked for his on-air comments which were ruled as ‘in-kind’ contributions. I didn’t follow the particular issues or the radio show at the time, however, it sent a signal to me that campaign finance rules are having a tremendously chilling effect on free speech.

    Article here.

  14. That would be a good argument, except from my limited exposure to the station, specifically the Al Franken show, he 1) had conservative guests and 2) took calls from people who were specifically invited to bash him at will (and he didn’t bash them back or make them sound like idiots.

    He also had a guest on who criticized the liberal approach to education, and that caller turned out to be one of his regular liberal guests. Possibly Eric Alterman.

    Granted it was still a partisan, liberal show, but from what I know about campaign commercials, making the other side look even a little bit good, or allowing criticism of your own agenda isn’t part of the deal.

  15. Really? And just what do they call the right-wing squawk radio shows run by Hannity, Limbaugh, Medved, Savage, et al?

    Profitable.

  16. Really? And just what do they call the right-wing squawk radio shows run by Hannity, Limbaugh, Medved, Savage, et al?

    How about profitable?

  17. Akira:

    As much as I hate InSanity and Lintball, they at least deliver a product that people pay money for. They have advertisers up the ying-yang, and as far as I know, they don’t beg for donations.

    Airhead America, on the other hand, was completely artificial as a “private” business effort. They were primarily funded by leftist political benefactors and not businesses. They also had to compete with NPR, which is another artifical construct, except they can thrive indefinitely on public money.

  18. As much as I hate InSanity and Lintball, they at least deliver a product that people pay money for. They have advertisers up the ying-yang, and as far as I know, they don’t beg for donations.

    Nice change of the subject….profitable has nothing to do with it.

    The point is that lefty radio is being labeled as long commercials for Democrats but they aren’t making the same claims against all the righty blowhard imbecile hosts who have been doing this for much, much longer.

  19. I don’t listen to much talk radio anymore, aside from some NPR and sports, but I recall thinking that the only 100% shill was Hannity. Limbaugh, for instance, does (or did) occasionally complain about GOP actions.

    I’m convinced that Michael Savage is a total fraud. He’s either just acting for the bucks, or he’s working for the DNC (kind of the Rovian plot story in reverse).

    My advice? Books on tape or, better yet, Teaching Company tapes/CDs.

  20. This end run around McCain-Feingold would, like the NRA’s foray into talk radio, be understandable, even admirable, if it weren’t for the fact that the people responsible for it supposedly favor the restrictions they’re dodging

    You rock Jacob!

  21. ChicagoTom,

    Speaking of radio, back in my good-pizza access days, I remember just hating that Man Cow guy. Is he still there? Stern used to just heap abuse on him when Stern entered the Chicago market. And I largely agreed with the abuse 🙂

    Tampa used to have good radio, but, alas, we are now bereft.

  22. The point is that lefty radio is being labeled as long commercials for Democrats but they aren’t making the same claims against all the righty blowhard imbecile hosts who have been doing this for much, much longer.

    yeah becouse as we all know Rush’s and Medved’s radio programs are not profitable….

    Bwahahahahah!

  23. “The point is that lefty radio is being labeled as long commercials for Democrats but they aren’t making the same claims against all the righty blowhard imbecile hosts who have been doing this for much, much longer.”

    The point is “righty imbecile hosts” are supported by advertisers who are paying to reach listeners. They are not making donations to the radio stations.

  24. Speaking of radio, back in my good-pizza access days, I remember just hating that Man Cow guy. Is he still there? Stern used to just heap abuse on him when Stern entered the Chicago market. And I largely agreed with the abuse 🙂

    Not anymore…

    Mancow Muller was dropped from his radio station (101.9 FM) earlier in the year and has not found another outlet for his show.

    He still is on the air via syndication — but locally he is gone…so is Stern since moving to Sirius…

    but we did get Opie and Anthony recently.

  25. Mancow suffering is good.

  26. Air America apparently is a money loser, but I bet the stations carrying them made money. They’re the ones with the broadcast license — the “license to print money” — which they’re able to squat on and charge Air America a competitive rate to use. If Air America had actually bought some commercial stations, they could’ve made money off them and just accepted a lower than market rate of return, but that would’ve taken a lot of capital. But being the owners of the stations and turning a profit with them would take it out of the realm of “expenditure”, no?

    But regarding campaign finance in general, I’m getting the image of Igli swallowing himself from Glory Road. To keep things fair in a democracy, access to the media must be kept fair & equal, which requires oversight by democratic gov’t, which is elected by us as informed by the media, which…. There seems to be no way off that merry-go-round.

  27. The point is that lefty radio is being labeled as long commercials for Democrats but they aren’t making the same claims against all the righty blowhard imbecile hosts who have been doing this for much, much longer.

    I’m going to start this response by stating that during the 90’s I loved Rush Limbaugh’s show. I especially loved when a caller would confront him with evidence that Rush was a closet libertarian (which, to listen to him then, he really seemed to be) and he would try to weasel his way out of the accusation. However, since the ascent of Bush II his show has become nothing more than an apolgetic front for the administration, and the few times I’ve tried to listen to Rush in the last few years I’ve either switched to Jim Rome, FM music, or just turned off the radio, because I can’t stand his unswerving defense of Bush II.

    Now, then, the “lefty radio” (I’m specifically speaking of Air America here) is dependent on stealing money from non-profit organizations (the Gloria Wise scandal) and stealing money from creditors (the current bankruptcy). I’d love for “lefty radio” to be able to make a profit and cut into the revenues generated by some of the more disgusting right-wing radio hosts (Hannity and Savage come to mind) but they can’t, and while Air America was a pretty good effort, the fact remains that talkers like Hannity and Limbaugh built shows from the ground up, and the “me-too” lefties haven’t figured out how to do that.

  28. Note:

    This article came out the same day YouTube took down all The Daily Show content from their site…I guess you really do have to make a profit.

  29. Won’t the “investors” in the Air America propaganda effort be able to claim a loss on their tax returns, thus graciously allowing taxpayers pay much of the bill?

  30. “Really? And just what do they call the right-wing squawk radio shows run by Hannity, Limbaugh, Medved, Savage, et al?”

    The point, as others have mentioned, is that Limbaugh, et al. are profitable shows whose advertisers pay not because of their content but because of their listenership numbers.

    That this distinction could even theoretically be relevant when it comes to McCain-Feingold I think pretty succinctly sums up the stupidty of the law. But the distinction was made in the article.

    Even so it’s a stupid argument even assuming it was a justifiable legal distinction. I think pretty clearly Air America wanted to at least make enough money to support itself. That they failed to succeed in their money making goals doesn’t mean those weren’t their goals.

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