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Campaign Ads

Many voters base their choices at the ballot box on political ads.And political campaigns in Ohio have been fueled by ads that critics are calling factually faulty at best, and outright lies at worst. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports. 

Fact checkers have found plenty to focus on in this presidential campaign already. There’s this anti-Romney ad from the Obama campaign in July:
“….Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest…”

And there was this anti-Obama ad from the Romney campaign in August:
“….President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They’d just send you your welfare check…”

Both were singled out by the independent reporting project Politifact with its worst rating – “pants on fire”. That means the statements in the ad went beyond just spin or truth stretching, but to an outright lie. Robert Higgs leads the Politifact team at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. These ads slammed as false are part of the continuing trend of negative campaigning He says while voters claim they hate negative ads, the campaigns have found they work
“So if you’re a candidate and you’re buying airtime and you’ve got, you need to zing your opponent, there’s incentive to run these negative ads. My fear is that we’re going to see more of that than civil discourse on the issues themselves.”

And in Ohio, the presidential race is a target, because of Ohio’s role as a must-win state. And so is the US Senate race, because both parties see a win as key to controlling that body. That race is already the most expensive one in Ohio history. Both incumebtn demo sb and reoubli -campaigns claim the other candidate will outspend him, so the outside money spent by superpacs and other groups will become increasingly importantt. A couple of print ads from the union-backed group Workers Voice have been blasted for their claims about Mandel, but most of the ads by Brown and his supporters have stood up to fact-checking scrutiny. On the other side, no ad has gotten more attention than this one:
“....Brown bailed out Wall Street, gave huge bonuses to executives, sent billions of our tax dollars to foreign countries, and cast the deciding vote on the government takeover of healthcare...”

That one ad was the subject of three articles at Politifact – which decided one claim was false and slapped two other statements in it with the “Pants on Fire” ruling. Some might wonder why such ads are still on the air. But laws protecting free speech require proof by clear and convincing evidence that the statements in the ad are false. The state has an elections commission that has the power to impose fines or issue citations, and even to refer the ad for criminal prosecution if it’s intentionally false. The commission can expedite some action, but often considers ads well after they’ve aired and the damage to the other candidate is done. And that commission has very high standards before taking action. Catherine Turcer used to watch money and politics for the watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action.
“The thing to remember is that truth is in fact one of those things that’s in the eye of the beholder.”

And Ohio State election law professor Ned Foley cautions that too much power in a government run commission could lead to politically-motivated prosecutions – at the very least.
“Even if you don’t like these ads and you think it’s a problem, the medicine might be worse than the disease so to speak to have the government come in too heavy-handed and force campaigns to adjust their message.”

The answer, Foley and Turcer agree, is simple but not easy. It’s for voters to be vigilant and inform themselves through fact checking websites and other sources.  Foley says if voters are turned off and vote against the candidates who use factually-questionable ads, maybe the system can be changed.  

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.