Campaign advertising deplorable

October 25, 2010
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Once again we are being inundated by the unlimited political budgets available to both parties in an election year. It certainly seems suspicious that millions and millions of advertising dollars are available to candidates striving to actually get or retain a “job” in Michigan that pays $79k plus for state offices, and $174k for federal offices. This article isn’t about salaries, though elected Michigan legislators have the “second highest” pay of any state, which certainly doesn’t correlate with our “high unemployment rate” or a pay-for-performance approach.

From the BBB’s role in “Truth-In-Advertising,” which the BBB has done for 99 years or so, this article is about the ”simply deplorable” state of political advertising we are subjected to every two years. To begin with, political advertising is generally perceived to have one of the lowest levels of credibility with the public. Self-regulation of consumer advertising has been a staple of BBB’s work for years, and in my 18 years serving 38 western Michigan counties, we have seen a significant improvement in truthful consumer advertising in highly competitive industries and competitive economies.

For the most part, I would estimate 98 percent-plus of all regional advertisers follow the ethical and legal requirements for truthful advertising. The real tragedy is that political advertising lies outside the purview of BBB’s self-regulation and isn’t really policed by any agency in a timely fashion unless, of course, you make a foolish mistake with a political yard sign, which actually has laws. So let’s get this straight: Your yard sign ads can be yanked into some courtroom (ASAP) if your yard signs have a mistake in their content or timing, but you can constantly run questionable TV/radio ads virtually without any fear of repercussions and with a “wink-wink” mentality. You won’t get in any trouble before any election if you: a) Misrepresent so-called facts and twist them to your favor; b) Take and use your opponents quotes totally out of context; c) Edit or Photoshop your opponent’s pictures and comments to meet your own political statement; d) Darn near or flat out lie, because no one enforces seemingly non-existent political advertising regulations; e) Spend $3 million for a job that pays $174k per year; or f) Hide behind the federal- and state-approved “anonymous” advertisers clause.

That said, it is simply deplorable to advertise how poorly your opponent’s job creation or unemployment record is in Michigan when the truth is most of the job losses are directly contributable to the self-inflicted, near demise of the U.S. auto industry. 

Then again, it is simply deplorable to suggest your opponent has purchased goods from China (who doesn’t buy globally?) for resale in the U.S. Michigan statistics re. unemployment/job losses, high school drop-out rates, housing foreclosures, net population losses, etc., are all disconcerting to anyone who cares and should be the starting point for actual solutions. Leadership isn’t about whining about your opponent; it is about finding solutions, sometimes very tough solutions, to problems. As the BBB has said for 99 years: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”

We need to do something different, and one simple solution is to allow political candidates to only talk about their own results or their own solutions and prohibit candidates from talking about their opponents.

To summarize: Political advertising can’t be trusted; leaders don’t whine, they find solutions; nobody enforces or even blinks about deplorable political claims (unless it is a yard sign); and even if you are on the “do not call” phone list, politicians can make “robo calls” and disturb your dinner hour. Question everything you hear, read, or see; believe in results.

Ken Vander Meeden is president of the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan.

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