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The New Wave of Political Advertising

In Legal Advertising, Political Advertising, Uncategorized on August 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

From the upcoming edition of the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association bulletin, The Messenger:

My column is usually dedicated to taking one of the many government related battles we’re involved in, dissecting it under a microscope and then taxing your patience with all the nitty gritty. But this time around, I’ll give a twitter-sized summary on the happenings in government relations and move on to opportunities on the brand new political advertising landscape.

This year has been the most challenging ever. From Annapolis to Harrisburg, to Columbus and Washington, D.C., we’ve been pushing the free community paper policy agenda. We defeated a new tax on advertising and are fighting same at overreaching interpretations of old law on printing. We passed legals through the House and are pushing them in the Court. And we continue to put our recipes for fair competition in the Federal Sausage being ground in multiple proceedings seeking to “Save News,” to stop new traffic tampering toll booths on an Open Internet, as well as stop Cross-Media Monopolies in our hometown markets.

Ok, that was a couple tweets worth but still not the customary flogging. Now onto what changed to make this a new day in political advertising, and setting arguments over good or bad for Democracy aside, how this could be great for your bottom line heading into fall. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a monumental Ruling on political advertising in Citizens United vs. FEC. In a nutshell, SCOTUS essentially ruled that corporations are citizens, money is speech, and therefore limiting their spending on advertising to influence elections and issues is a violation of their Rights under the First Amendment.

Citizens United is a fundamental game changer. Corporations (including incorporated trade and consumer associations) and Unions can now use general treasury funds to pay for advertisements expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified candidates for federal office anywhere at anytime (like: Vote for Bob Smith for US REP), as well as referring to clearly-identified elected officials for legislative purposes (for example: Call Senator Jones and ask him to vote against the Senate’s Cap and Trade bill). The ruling did not tackle the issue of campaign financing, so the playing field with all the bright new lights is advertising with we the media. And while Congress has moved to Legislate new restrictions, it’s unlikely anything more than a couple sandbags in the flood will pass the Senate.

While federal Candidates, themselves, tend to stick to cookie-cutter Radio and TV spots and politically entrenched direct mail shops, the folks that just got the green light to spend large are more likely to operate like the businesses they are. Display advertising could be very attractive, especially where it maps well over districts, and these folks should actually listen to the compelling case for inserts over direct mail pieces. Based on all manner of sources, unprecedented amounts of money is being raised, to be spent by these Business Groups, their counterparts in Unions, and established as well as continuously sprouting Front Groups from Left and Right — to educate Voters this November on the Candidates’ positions on their pet policy issues.

Our readers are in traditional Battleground States where several federal races, both state-wide Senate and district-level House seats, are paramount to special interest agendas. Many of these are anticipated to be very competitive, critical to the margins in the Congressional Balance of Power, translating correspondingly into probable life or death of these organizations high-stakes issues. Some political advertisers might just end up finding you on their own — there are examples from primaries across the country where prominent local businesses have taken out full pages backing Congressional candidates.

But there is actual research, planning and coordination we can all start doing now, assuming there’s interest. For my part, I already monitor a range of national players now for policy stances that could impact our industry, and will be watching for the races these groups plan to target with an eye towards Mid-Atlantic opportunities. At your own papers, you might check out this fantastic resource if you’re interested in proactively selling advertising for US House races: Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org — click top left button, “Politicians & Elections” and scroll down to “Congressional Elections.” From there, it’s a snap to find every contest by district and each has top corporate and union donors revealed by clicking the “Contributors” tab. After your jaw drops, the list you’re looking at are your prime targets, those with serious coin in the game now — and this is their first chance to openly exercise their First Amendment Rights with political advertising in your publication.

As always, please feel free to contact me anytime about this or any other issues or concerns.

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