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Not So Super PACs

Posted At: September 13, 2012 12:57 P.M.
by Shelby Calambokidis

Politics has always been messy, but deciding whose name you’ll check on the ballot this Election Day may be harder now than it has ever been.

In the past, I found it difficult to sift through all the campaign rhetoric and political spin to find what I was looking for: what each candidate planned to do if he or she were elected. However, now I feel more lost than ever. Political ads not only come from the candidate, but from the super political action committees that support them.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court reversed its decision on Citizens’ United and ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. This ruling granted corporations or unions the right to persuade the voting public through advertising.

Consequently, the political discourse has changed along with the ability of public relations practitioners to control messaging. The landscape of elections is bound to change if super PACs, which are allowed to accept unlimited contributions from an undisclosed list of donors, are in the driver’s seat. Corporations now have the ability to put out information into the media and not be responsible for that content.

For example, Winning our Future, a pro-Obama super PAC, ran an advertisement calling Mitt Romney “more ruthless than Wall Street.” Similarly, Karl Rove’s super PAC American Crossroads put out a provocative advertisement that said, “ Obama says raise taxes and keep spending more? Doesn’t Washington know we can’t afford more taxes and debt? … There’s got to be a way to take away President Obama’s blank check.”

Creating a consistent image is key to a presidential candidate’s success. PR teams promote the candidate’s values, goals and plans for the future. If a super PAC’s advertisement is not on message, it could potentially be counterproductive.

PR practitioners are often dubbed “spin doctors.” Yet, as a part of this industry, we know that trust in the message is imperative. All of the spin in politics breeds a cynicism that makes it harder for PR professionals to mount a successful and credible campaign. In a recent advertisement sponsored by Romney’s campaign, the facts are completely inaccurate. However, it appears the campaign made a calculated decision that running this ad will win it more votes than it will lose by fact checkers’ claims that the ad was false. In an atmosphere where the truth is blatantly distorted, a skeptical public will not be forgetting our nickname anytime soon.

The ruling also allows any outside group to tell the country who to vote for and why until Nov. 6 2012. Public relations professionals in the political sphere have their work cut out for them. Now, they are not only battling the opposing nominee and the opposition party’s social welfare groups, but also the super PACs that come armed with corporate money.

The major PR lesson I’ve taken away from the presidential race is that consistency is key, but it needs to be strategic. I feel like I am living a PR nightmare: the message is no longer controlled, and ads are coming from everywhere and from all directions. Not only do super PACs operate separately from their chosen candidate’s campaign, but it is also illegal for the two to consult with one another.

As a voter and as a part of the PR industry, I want consistency — but above all else — I want the truth. I want politicians to value the promotion of their own goals over bashing the other candidate’s. I want politicians who ride on the public’s hope for change rather than those who instill fear about the competition. I want there to be a level playing field, where we return to the days before Super PACs, where we had limits and transparency on the source of contributions.

So, the president who writes blank checks and ultimately will make it tougher on our kids or the ruthless corporate raider who destroyed us … who will you vote for?

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