Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The First(?) Campaign Ad of the 2012 Senate Race?

I was driving to my daughter's elementary school yesterday and heard this on the radio:

ANNCR: What do your kids, our congressman, and mercury poisoning have in common?
More than you might think.
You see after taking over four hundred and sixty thousand dollars from dirty energy companies - Congressman Denny Rehberg voted to block the enforcement of a vital mercury pollution law.
They buried it in a spending bill and passed it in the middle of the night. Letting polluters off the hook. And letting mercury back into our air and water. Mercury, that causes brain damage in kids.
Maybe Rehberg was hoping Montana parents wouldn’t notice. Well…we did.
And we don’t like politicians interfering in decisions that should be made by experts. Scientists whose job it is to protect the water our kids drink and the air they breathe. But Denny Rehberg thinks he knows better.
Congressman Rehberg should stop playing politics with our kids’ health. And start looking out for Montana families.
A message from Montana Conservation Voters."

Yes, it was first ad of the 2012 Senate election. And yes, it was March 1, 2011.

You can listen to the ad and read the accompanying press release here.

A couple of quick points.

1. This confirms my suspicion that the Rehberg-Tester race will receive a lot of attention from the national media and interest groups (see, for example, Mark Barabak's article on Montana here).
2. This will be a hotly contested race.
3. This advertisement is an issue advocacy ad. This means that the Montana Conservation Voters can raise and spend unlimited sums of money from virtually any source to air this advertisement. This is courtesy of several Supreme Court decisions, most notably Citizens United v. FEC and FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, which undercut the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002's ban on soft money and corporate advertising.
4. I should also say that this ad is a "negative" ad. I put the term negative in quotes because the way I--and other scholars--define negative ads is an advertisement which talks about an opponent. This ad focuses on one of Rehberg's vote and try to make a connection between that vote and the contributions he received from the energy industry. Putting aside the particulars of this ad, let me say that negative ads are not necessarily bad. They do tend to increase voter information and they do tend, according to some research (see Ken Goldstein's work in particular at the University of Wisconsin) increase voter turnout. Generally speaking, voters generally thing negative advertising is OK as long as it doesn't attack a politician on personal, family issues. While voters often bemoan negative advertising, I think it is important to stress again these key points.
5. Finally, let me also point out that the linkage between campaign contributions and the votes of members of Congress is not firmly established in the literature. Fifty plus years of research on the effects of campaign spending on votes on legislation has yielded--in the aggregate--mixed results at best. The key point here is that interest groups money tends to flow to allies who already support ideologically the group's mission. This makes sense. Why would a pro-life organization give a campaign contribution, say to Barbara Boxer? The small amount that the pro-life organization could give the Senator certainly would do little to dissuade her from her position on abortion. Congressman Rehberg, I think he would agree, is a friend of the resource extraction industry. He would claim that industry is important to the economic development of the state, and he was merely doing what he believed was best for his constituents.

Of course, the Montana Conservation Voters see the issue quite differently. But that's what campaigns are about: framing the issues and persuading voters that your particular frame is the best.

It has begun in earnest. Let's have fun this campaign season.

1 comment:

Ken & Carol said...

Does the probable truth or lack of it in an ad make any difference in your analysis?