We probably won’t be allowed to know who the speakers are behind the ads, but at least we’ll know how these ads came to be:
Does the term “the White House” refer to President Obama? That was the semantic question facing the six-member Federal Election Commission on Thursday as it considered a request by the conservative advocacy group American Future Fund to run TV commercials that refer to “the White House” or “the administration” — or even use Obama’s voice — without triggering a rule requiring groups that fund election-related ads to disclose their donors.
After an occasionally contentious one-hour debate, the commission couldn’t decide, deadlocking along party lines.
Until recently, tax-exempt advocacy groups had been able to engage in a limited amount of political activity without revealing who was financing their efforts. But in March, a federal judge in Washington ruled that groups that run a type of advertising called “electioneering communications” must identify their contributors.
An appeal of the case is set to be heard in September. But in the meantime, conservative advocacy groups are scrambling to find ways to air ads this summer without triggering the disclosure requirement.
To be considered an “electioneering communication,” a TV spot must air in the 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election and refer to a “clearly identified” candidate for federal office, without advocating for his or her election or defeat.
In its request to the FEC for an advisory opinion, American Future Fund proposed eight alternative ads that criticize the administration’s energy policy and healthcare overhaul but stop short of using Obama’s name. The group is hoping to avoid running ads that qualify as electioneering communications, because it “does not want to risk being compelled to violate its donors’ privacy expectations,” Torchinsky wrote.
“Only those familiar with President Obama’s voice will know that it is President Obama speaking,” Torchinsky wrote.
That notion was met with incredulity by one of the FEC’s Democratic commissioners, Ellen Weintraub, who expressed surprise that Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert had not yet “made a joke out of this one.”
“The voice of the president is so clearly recognizable to the citizens of this country,” she said. To underscore her point, Weintraub played audio clips of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan for the half-filled hearing room. “And those are dead guys … but their voices clearly identify them.”
She chided the American Future Fund for lacking “civic courage” in its effort to avoid disclosure, saying, “A better-informed electorate is actually a good thing … it’s not something to hide from.”
After she concluded, Republican Commissioner Donald McGahn applauded sarcastically and admonished her for referring to former presidents as “dead guys.”
There are so many conservative-libertarian groups running ads it’s hard to keep the names straight. The names probably won’t mean anything to the average viewer anyway, they’re just strings of poll-tested words that reveal nothing. The American Future Fund reads like all the others, “free market principles…”
At first I thought oil and gas interests were behind this one, but looking at the whole site I think I’d have to go with “a focus on destroying organized labor.” That might be a game ordinary viewers of the ads could play at home: guess which moneyed interest or industry is behind an ad.