FREE AIRTIME FOR CANDIDATESOne of the most troubling aspects of the campaign finance system in the United States is the tremendous amount of influence that political advertisements play in the process of choosing our public officials. Advertisements make up the bulk of campaign spending and their importance is a major reason that modern campaigns are, for all intents and purposes, required to raise large sums of money in order to have any chance of competing for office.
This contributes to a situation that reduces campaigns to a fundraising contest and turns political campaigns into a money-making industry for major media outlets. It also means that a great deal of our information about candidates comes from 30-second clips - many of which do little but negatively attack their opponents - since they may get few better opportunities to speak to the large viewing audience that television brings.
If this is a suboptimal situation even for the front-running candidates, it makes successful campaigning nearly impossible for candidates who are not wealthy themselves, have not raised great amounts of money, or are not early favorites in the polls, and thus receive less media coverage on the news or are not invited to some of the highly selective major debates. These candidates may receive almost no time whatsoever to be heard by the voters, many of whom, in today's age, can only be reached via television.
Ultimately, the losers in this circumstance are the voters, who barely get to hear from some of the candidates at all and rarely get to hear at length directly, and unedited, from even the most popular candidates. But, there is a simple solution that would level the playing field for candidates, give voters a chance to hear directly from all candidates in their own words, and stop media outlets from turning our elections into business opportunities - Free Airtime for Candidates.
We must remember that legally the airwaves belong to the public and are leased out to the networks. In exchange, by law, they are supposed to spend at least some of their resources in serving the public interest. Unfortunately, that principle has been forgotten. But many groups are attempting to bring it back to the forefront, and one of the ways they are doing that is by advocating for laws that mandate the networks to provide free airtime to candidates for office. Given the tremendous profits these networks reap while using our airwaves, this is a small price for them to pay, and yet it is a step that could make a tremendous difference in the quality of our campaigns.
For more information, visit the Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Campaign Page at the Campaign Legal Center.