Political attack ads and dark money need light

Sacramento-area residents who’ve been watching TV recently have no doubt seen the numerous advertisements taking aim at U.S. Rep. Ami Bera.

His seat in California’s 7th Congressional District is one that has been targeted by both the Democratic and Republican parties as an essential component of their long-term planning. This means that, in addition to the typical nice-guy political advertisements, we’re also getting a whole bunch of attack ads.

The first of these Bera hit pieces, which began appearing several weeks ago, announced in very small print that they’re being paid for by Crossroads GPS.

Unless you’ve been on a political timeout for the last decade, you’ll recognize Crossroads as former “Bush brain” Karl Rove’s outfit.

The ads ding Bera for everything from failing to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act to being personally responsible for a rising federal budget deficit. Neither is true.

In short, the ads are exactly what we’ve come to expect from the guy former President George W. Bush nicknamed “Turd Blossom.”

All the hot airtime isn’t on the GOP side, however. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has weighed in with some equally scurrilous attacks on Bera’s challenger, former Rep. Doug Ose. These Dem ads accuse Ose of using his public-service positions to enrich himself, which is the very definition of an ad hominem attack.

Our point here is that it remains business as usual when it comes to political-ad warfare. It’s incomprehensible that even in 2014, with the world’s vastly efficient and sophisticated communications platforms, our elections rely on such base and outrageous examples of money-as-speech. If for no other reason than that these commercials are annoying—let alone that they are not subject to any sort of fact checking—it’s got to stop, before we have an entire electorate with their fingers on the “mute” button.

Overturning Citizens United seems to be beyond the ability of a Congress reliant on money for re-election, so perhaps an organized campaign for responsible advertising is in order. Shouldn’t there be some consequence for using false or misleading statements in a political ad? Is there an online watchdog community that can hold these electioneerists accountable?

Sometimes there are consequences—if you’re the candidate. The Federal Elections Commission monitors ads that are paid for by the campaigns, and candidates are required to approve messages, thereby taking personal responsibility for their statements.

Why not hold all political speech to the same standard?

At the very least, given that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech, shouldn’t all the people funding Crossroads, the Chamber of Commerce and the DCCC be transparent? Should they be required to stand up at the end of the commercial and give their names, followed by the phrase “I approved this message”?

Now, that would be worth paying to see.