Monday, September 27

Blue Curtain Ads : True Campaign Reform

Few who take any real time to view the modern political landscape and the quality of public information these days would fail to lament it's sad sorry state.

Even after the passage of the McCain/Fiengold Campaign Finance Bill the problem seems worse than ever, more soft-money is flowing and the ability to get un-spun legitimate facts about our candidates and the choices we face becomes more and more difficult.

At the rate we're going it won't be long before Senator John Kerry will be accused of being a pot-head draft dodger, while President George Bush will be hailed as a battle-tested medal carrying war hero who bravely charged into a hail of bullets to save a drowning Vietnamese boy using nothing more than his teeth.

Or we might soon be hearing claims of how Bush has secretly been working in cohoots with the Bin Laden family to ensure that the events of 9/11 would not be impeded by the U.S. Government in exchange for al Qaeda guaranteeing that Bush, as an incumbent President during a War, would be certain to win a second term unlike his father.

Don't scoff - claims like this may be coming from a 527 near you quite soon, while Mainstream (and increasingly Right and even MORE Right-wing) media either sits on it's hands or rolls it's eyes.

The problem is that campaign financing, is not the problem.

It's not a question of supply, it's a question of demand.

By and large the greatest portion of campaign funds are spent on television advertising. And even in the modern age of the internet and blogs, the primary method that most people still receive their general news and information is from broadcast TV.

No matter how much we try to limit the ability of individuals and corporate entities to spend money on their political choices, the money will keep flowing and it will keep getting spent by the candidates on TV time. This we can not change, certainly not while the Supreme Court continues to define the process of giving money as "Free Speach".

But what can be changed is the type and quality of political commentary that we receive directly from the candidates. Currently the FCC sets rules which dictate that local TV stations are required to have a certain percentage of local news programming. They also set rules which dictate how many commercials can be shown per hour and to a large extent when. With this in mind, it's quite possible for the FCC to set a rule that requires that a certain number of minutes per day or week on each and every local broadcast television station (but not cable, as cable is a "paid" service, not a public institution and not subject to the same level of detailed FCC scrutiny - right Janet?) be dedicated to providing for local political statements directly from all potential candidates.

You can call them - the "Blue Curtain" spots, where the candidate has an oppurtunity to speak directly to the public, free of charge, before a generic blue curtain or screen, no expensive graphics or the booming voice of a professional narrator, no props, no dramatic footage of soldiers at war or workers in the factory, no frills at all, nothing but the candidate in their own words, telling us - the voters - their own ideas.

Neat, right?

In additional to this, the FCC has the ability to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine which lapsed in the Reagan era and would require that each opposing view would receive equal time and equal coverage. So if one candidate takes advantage of this free - but limited - local air time, each and every opposing candidate could do so as well.

Politicians spend a significant portion of the time that they're supposedly working for us raising funds and smoozing donors for their next campaign. Maybe instead of jet-setting from one fundraiser to the next - they might actually be able to sit down and read some of the legislation they're supposed to be voting on?

The "Blue Curtain" suggestion wouldn't eliminate political donations. There would still be paid political advertising by candidates (when the free time is exhausted, or through non-broadcast outlets such as cable), but wouldn't it be nice to put just a little dent in the swirling cesspoll of legalized bribery that currently passes for our political process?

Certainly the opposition to idea will be fierce, particularly from Broadcast outlets who currently depend on the millions (billions?) of ad revenue dollars they regularly collect during election season. To offset some of these revenue loses, time donated by the stations to local and national political discourse in methods similar to the "Blue Curtain Spots" should be considered tax deductable at the fair market rate for ads within that timeslot. This would have the benefit of encouraging stations to show these ads in prime-time when people are actually watching rather than during dreamtime (3am to 6am) in between infomericals for "5 Minute Wash-Board Abs in 2 Seconds!" and the "New Improved Ass-Master - now with Kung-Fu Grip!"

But the truth is the airwaves do not legally belong to these corporations, they belong to the people, the public. And as such their use - first and foremost - should to serve the execution of the people's business.

Otherwise known as Democracy.

It's a simple Idea, but a simple idea still has the potential to change a great deal of our political landscape, our country and the world.

All we have to do is try, and at least trying to do something positive is better than throwing up our hands and walking away from the process as so many have done.


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