Washington Week -- Fridays at 8 pm. on SCETV 

Phone: 843.670.3996


2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

SCIway -- South Carolina Information Highway



Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

OCT. 6, 2002 - - There's one thing most voters agree on: They don't like negative ads.

In this election season, South Carolinians have been pummeled by more negative ads than any time in history. Whether on flag-burning or Social Security, negative ads are making TV stations rich.

At a political forum of analysts this week at the College of Charleston, students wondered why negative ads couldn't be stopped. There are two reasons:

  1. Negative ads work. Parties and campaigns run critical ads because they leave a lasting impression in voters' minds. Even if they hate the negative ad, they remember it. And that could influence their vote - - or cause them to become so frustrated they don't vote (which is what consultants often want too).

  2. Donations are a form of free speech. In a landmark Supreme Court decision 26 years ago, the high court equated money with free speech. In other words, they ruled it was unconstitutional to keep candidates from spending what they wanted, including on campaign advertising.

Bottom line: Don't look for the election season slew of campaign ads to stop anytime soon. But maybe something can be done to tone down the negativity.

Because campaign ads cost money, perhaps going after the root of the problem - - the money - - will result in a withering of negative ads.

Here's why: today's candidates don't pay for the bulk of negative ads. Generally, they're funded by political parties and outside groups, both of which get millions of "soft money" donations that don't have to be reported.

If you simply get rid of soft money to political parties as some suggest, creative campaign operatives will figure out loopholes to get money back into the system. In other words, if you turn off one spigot, the flow of money will eventually get started by creating another spigot.

At the other end of the spectrum is an alternative being pushed by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina and the S.C. Progressive Network. They want public financing of campaigns. Their proposal calls for candidates to limit fund-raising activities in return for grants from a pool of money set aside to pay for campaigns. The coalition says it would cost less than a penny a day per voting-age citizen to generate the $5 million needed to seed the fund.

A third mainstream alternative being actively considered in South Carolina is a requirement for political parties and outside groups to disclose funds received for influencing an election, just like people do now with contributions to candidates.

This "full disclosure" would not get rid of money in the process, but would shine light into the process to allow voters to see who was pulling the strings.

House Republicans say such campaign finance reform is their "first order of business" in the next legislative session. To date, they've failed twice. They first failed in the 1999-2000 session because a campaign finance reform bill was vetoed by Gov. Jim Hodges, who said it wasn't tough enough. Then after input from a Hodges-appointed blue-ribbon panel that recommended legislation similar to what Hodges vetoed earlier, the General Assembly failed to reach agreement on a bill on the last day of the 2002 session.

House Speaker David Wilkins' continuing push for campaign finance reform is laudable. But he and his legislative leaders aren't doing it just to be white knights. They've also got a political agenda. By putting sunshine into the political funding process, they hope to be able to curb big donations, such as millions in video poker money that helped to elect Hodges.

The General Assembly should move forward with sweeping reform to require disclosure of what's going on with campaign financing. Let's just make sure it's something that will fix nagging problems, not cause more.

-- 30 --

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



If you've got any suggestions for Statehouse Report, send information to: