(Un)Truth in Political Advertising

Nov 2, 2016

Credit cliparts.co

Lies. 

That’s how political candidates often describe their opponent’s advertisements that are saturating television, mailboxes, and social media.

What does the laws says about truth in political ads?

Not much, says Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, because the content is protected by the Constitution’s free speech provisions.

“That is where the argument that you are interfering with the First Amendment speech right is strongest,” he says.  

Motl says the courts have struck down laws that have attempted to deal with political content.

Motl’s office gets complaints filed about political ad content because as commissioner he’s charged with monitoring and enforcing campaign practices in a fair and impartial manner.

He tells candidates and others, “…when you are talking about the content - the truth or the untruth - of what is written or said in a particular political communication, that is between the 2 candidates.”

Other options are for the media to report on these ads or the public can make its voice heard.

“If culture is accepting brazen statements by a candidate, you are going to see brazen statements. We all need to react to that,” Motl says.

“A lot of voters basically presume that politicians lie all the time,” says Montana State University Political Scientist David Parker.

He says many of the issues raised in these ads are multi-faceted, complex, and can’t be boiled down easily into a 30 second ad or flyer. He says the only way for voters to navigate this is to examine the claims and do your own research.

“If you believe that campaign ads are the only way to educate yourself on a race, you’re grossly mistaken,” Parker says. “You have a responsibility if you’re going to vote to fully educate yourself as much as possible on the issues and go to sources that you respect for getting that information. Getting all of your information from those ads is a bad idea.”

Election Day is November 8, 2016. Soon political advertising goes silent.