Television stations are getting rich by airing political ads from Super PACs and other outside groups that station officials know are misleading, a Washington public interest watchdog group charged Thursday.
In an e-mail blast, the watchdog group Free Press asked the public to protest the broadcast industry's refusal to check facts in ads sponsored by independent political groups during the current election cycle.
Some political analysts project that TV stations will reap more than $3.3 billion in political ad revenue by election day next month, with up to half of that projected to be chipped in by Super PACs and other groups with no direct affiliation with the candidates.
The watchdog Center for Responsive Politics says that, as of Oct. 18, there were 942 Super PACs, and those groups had spent a total of $393 million.
One of the biggest Super PACs, Restore Our Future, which supports Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had spend $97.3 million as of Oct. 18, the center said.
Priorities USA Action, which supports President Obama’s re-election campaign, had spent $44.3 million as of Oct. 18, the center said.
Under the law, broadcasters are legally obliged to run ads from political candidates themselves, even when those spots include blatant falsehoods. But the law says that broadcasters can reject deceptive ads from Super PACs and other groups not directly affiliated with candidates.
“The problem is not a lot of stations are doing that,” Timothy Karr, Free Press senior director of strategy, told TheWrap.
To combat the misinformation, Free Press is asking the public to weigh in, and Free Press has volunteered to deliver the messages to the Big 4 TV network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets, where most of the political ad dollars are being spent.
“Our campaign hopes to convince stations to do the right thing by connecting them with many of the outraged viewers in their markets,” Karr told TheWrap.
Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, declined to comment to TheWrap.
Under a landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision, Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend as much money as they like during campaigns — as long as they don’t contribute money directly to the candidates.