Federal Communications Commission

Corporate Campaign Money and Media

January 25th, 2010 by Steve Waldman - Senior Advisor to the Chairman

Ellen Goodman, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law and expert on media policy emailed me with this fascinating point about last week's Supreme Court ruling:

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court this week overturned statutory controls on corporate funding of campaign advertising (Citizens United v. FEC).  It is a hugely significant decision in that it will allow corporations to expend unlimited funds to promote or defeat candidates for office.  Before this decision, the corporations were limited to directly funding “issue ads” and funding candidate advertising only through PACs and political parties.   The decision will mean a flood of advertising dollars onto broadcast television, cable, and every other medium.
Putting aside what this will mean to electoral politics, what will it mean for news and information?  In the short term, it will probably mean tons more advertising dollars especially for local broadcast stations.  One could imagine a scenario in which these dollars were re-invested in local journalism, and it was the kind of journalism that supported beat reporters and the other kinds of information gathering that has been under threat.  But it’s not at all clear that this is the kind of journalism the market would support or, therefore, that ad dollar recipients would choose to expand.
One thing that seems fairly clear is that the influx of ad dollars will REQUIRE more journalism.  Corporations will be required to disclose when they are responsible for advertising (over a certain dollar amount).  But it may not always be obvious why they are supporting a certain candidate.  Journalism will be required.  This might be just the kind of database journalism that the “crowd” or citizen journalists can do, if they have access to the right kinds of data.  Or it might be the kind of journalism that only intrepid, “feet on the ground” full-time journalists can do.  Probably, it will be a combination of both.  Will the news and information apparatus up to making meaning from increased corporate spending on elections?


2 Responses to “Corporate Campaign Money and Media”

  1. Scott Ellington says:

    I'm a destitute American who very happily contributed capital to the campaign of my presidential candidate-of-choice in the 2008 election -- until I realized that my modest donations were probably being given directly to mainstream media conglomerates in exchange for ad buys.

    This realization has led me to wonder at the surprising lack of transparency in "ordinary" campaign funding. Now that the Supreme Court as relaxed regulation of a suspect process, how can we follow the money that may flow from one profoundly deep pocket into the profoundly deep pocket of the same transnational, integrated conglomerate?

    I don't quite follow Professor Goodman's logic that last week's decision CAN reinvigorate informative, reliable journalism, when the likely result of the ruling is a steroids injection for rhetoric, propaganda and slick disinformation.

    Perhaps the greatest victim of convergence culture is the separation of powers.

  2. Gail- California says:

    Here you go again trying to trick the public into falling for you localism policy which is trying to put opinion radio and news (read conservative opinion and debate) out of business. LEAVE THE POPULAR COSERVATIVE NEWS ALONE! THEY ARE SUCESSFUL BECAUSE THE PUBLIC SUPPORTS THEM! they want to hear other opinions besides the "state run" mainstream media which is so obviously liberal biased. That is the only reason your mainstream liberal news sources are having problems!

    The public is tired of hearing the same old blame game, the sky is falling scare tactics, and the we know what is best for you, tactics. Their are NO investigative journalists left in the mainstream media, they only tout the party line. The free press is dead when they only give one side.

    We don't need to change anything, everything is working just fine. The Supreme Court agrees ...... their latest ruling supports freedom of speech in all areas, and now, FINALLY, in the liberal politically charged "the bad badcorporations will take over". In truth, all political contributions will now have to be made public, no more secret back door money! For the first time in years a private citizen, or group of citizens, will be allowed to voice their opinions without restriction!

    You have even suggested mainstream newspapers, etc. may need to be bailed out! That will insure they have to print ONLY what the current administration

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