Tom Kacich: TV stations benefit from attack ads
Not everyone dislikes the mud-slinging attack ads on the television airwaves this fall, including those in the 13th Congressional District.
The owners of the TV stations that air the commercials are making out nicely. In fact, Moody's Investors Service reported last week that political campaigns, advocacy groups and so-called "independent" groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee will spend $2.8 billion with local broadcasters this election season. That's up from $2.3 billion in 2010.
And some of those local broadcasters — Moody's specifically mentioned Nexstar, the owner of WCIA and WCIX in Champaign, and Sinclair, the owner of WICD in Champaign — are setting aside the political campaign cash to buy more TV stations.
So even though Illinois is not a battleground state in the presidential election, central Illinois broadcasters are benefiting from the high-spending congressional race.
WCIA and WCIX, for example, have been paid more than $160,000 for ads ordered by the DCCC, NRCC and the campaigns of Republican Rodney Davis and Democrat David Gill. And that's just since late August. Some of the groups have reserved television spots into November, meaning the stations likely will get thousands of dollars more over the next six-plus weeks.
According to a report with the Federal Election Commission, just the "independent" groups have spent more than $710,000, mostly on TV commercials, in the 13th District race. Those are the commercials that have been uniformly criticized, by The News-Gazette and others, for being loaded with half-truths and outright distortions.
The biggest spender so far at the two Champaign Nexstar stations is the DCCC, which has put $66,737 into ads trashing Davis. The NRCC isn't far behind, having devoted $50,786 to attacking Gill. The campaigns of the actual candidates so far have spent considerably less: $36,409 by Davis and $8,112 by Gill.
Although some of the anti-Davis and anti-Gill attack ads are provably false, they continue to appear on local TV stations. Among the distortions are the claim by the NRCC that Gill wants to end Medicare and by the DCCC that Davis was "right in the middle of" the various scandals involving ex-Gov. George Ryan.
The stations don't have to air the ads, according to the site at http://www.flackcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The group wants TV stations to check the veracity of the independent groups' ads before airing them.
"While TV and radio stations are required to air (and are barred from censoring) federal candidates' ads, no such requirements govern the messages of third-party groups. Stations have the right to insist on the accuracy of the 'independent expenditure' ads they accept," the group said.
It suggests that stations consult fact-checking websites such as FactCheck.org, Politifact.com or that stations do their own investigations.
There is also a link at the website for TV viewers to send a message to individual station operators urging them not to air deceptive political ads. It is at http://www.flackcheck.org/stations/send-email-to-stations/.
Former state Rep. Jay Hoffman, who was briefly a candidate in the 13th Congressional District last year, appears to have made the right decision, opting instead to run for an Illinois House seat in a Democrat-friendly district in southwestern Illinois.
Last year at this time, Hoffman formed an exploratory committee to look into running against U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana. Now neither Hoffman nor Johnson is running for the congressional seat.
Johnson, after winning the Republican primary in March, chose not to run again. Republican Party county chairmen selected Davis to take Johnson's spot. And Hoffman, who lives in Collinsville, decided to run in the 113th House District against Republican Melinda Hult of Belleville.
A new We Ask America poll published on the Capitol Fax website shows Hoffman with a 52 percent to 28 percent lead over Hult. Twenty percent are undecided.
Bernadine and Bob Stake will host a fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday for Charlie Smyth, the Democratic candidate for Champaign County clerk. The suggested donation is $25 per person for the reception at the Stakes' home at 304 W. Iowa St., U.
Smyth, an Urbana City Council member, is opposed by Republican Gordy Hulten, who was appointed the county clerk last year.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.