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Kevin Spacey Calls for Networks to Run “Legitimate” Political Ads for Free

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Posted on November 16 2010 12:00 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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Washington corruption has a new foe in the guise of Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey. Interviewed at a screening of his latest film Casino Jack, in which he plays nefarious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Spacey dropped political science on a CNS reporter.

As much as they’d like to pretend they cleaned up the lobbying industry by throwing this guy [Abramoff] in jail, they haven’t. It’s still got too much influence… To some degree, I blame the networks. You know, I think if network television started to agree to run legitimate ads that you knew were true – if you’re gonna say something about a rival, it can’t just be dirt – I think, if they started to run these ads for free and were part of being a public service, well then maybe some of this corruption – some of this insistence on raising ridiculous amounts of money, primarily for television ads, would go away. And maybe we’d start electing people on ideas instead of on how much money they had in their coffers.

Watching him relay this idea, it’s apparent that Spacey has mulled the concept over, which makes his endorsement of it all the more remarkable. While considering the practicality of free “legitimate” network ads, a number of questions should have sprung to mind.

Who would determine what constitutes a “legitimate” ad? Spacey’s criteria is simple at face value, but subjective just beneath the surface. What makes an ad “true?” Beyond facts, how could you account for impressions created by cherry-picked data, rhetorical devices, music, and images?

Someone would need to subjectively judge which ads were misleading. What possible guarantee would we have that such a person or committee would not become politically motivated or corrupt?

If candidates are capable of “raising ridiculous amounts of money,” why would free airtime make them fund-raise less? Wouldn’t they want to spend money elsewhere, or buy even more airtime?

Do voters really elect big spenders regardless of ideas? This year’s race for governor in Minnesota saw one candidate spend an extravagant sum, only to come in a distant third.

80,498 votes cost [Democratic] primary candidate Matt Entenza $5 million of his own cash, or about $62 per vote.

At that rate, in a general election, a candidate would have to spend more than $60 million.

In that instance, the voters weren’t impressed with frequent ads. But even if they were, even if people thoughtlessly cast ballots for the biggest coffer, why would free ads suddenly interest them in ideas? How does campaign financing affect the way voters process information?

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