Wild Card Bill
Former presidents don’t have to answer to anyone — you can build houses for the poor (Jimmy Carter), clear brush at your ranch (George W. Bush) or just wander around looking for live microphones. The latter seems to be the preferred pastime of Bill Clinton, whose recent musings have Obama supporters wondering if he’s just laying the groundwork for Hillary in 2016.
Last week, he said Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital was “good work” — way off the Obama reservation. And of birther drum-beater Donald Trump, he said, “I like him. And I love playing golf with him.” But then over the weekend, he told a New York crowd that a Romney presidency would be “calamitous.” Huh?
Bill Clinton can deliver Hillary’s voters and independents who miss his job-creating mojo. But who will he deliver them to?
Great Year For TV
If it seems like politics have been turned up to 11 this year, you’re quite perceptive. In 2008, combined political spending was $2.6 billion; in 2010 — a non-presidential year — it grew again, to $3.2 billion. Now, factoring in the impact of Super PACs, researchers at Washington Analysis are estimating spending could top $4 billion for 2012.
Where does all that money go? To television, of course. According to PQ Media, 75 percent of all political spending goes to broadcast TV. (Just 8 percent goes to cable TV, and 4 percent to Internet.) And the spending will be concentrated in a handful of swing states like Florida and Virginia.
Spokane won’t get many national ads, so our stations won’t have a place at the trough. But if you happen to own a TV license in Ohio, it’s like waking up on Christmas morning to find out you won the lottery and got a new pony.
Super PAC Bonus
And the new unlimited Super PACs offer an even bigger prize, as stations can charge them top rates. By federal law, candidates are charged a basic rate — still good money, but Super PACs have no such protection and will pay dearly for airtime. Every once in a while, the rich soak the rich.
Free The Files!
So can we find out who is paying for which ad? You’d think that would be public information you could download, but no. Those documents keep a very low profile.
Here locally you can stop by the offices of KHQ, KREM or KXLY to review their political advertising disclosure statements — but you can’t get a database file. That’s where ProPublica, the public-interest journalism project, comes in. They’re asking volunteers to post the statements to their website so people can follow the money. Check it out at propublica.org and find “Free the Files” under the “Our Investigations” button.
— TED S. McGREGOR JR., @INLANDERTMX