CBS, PBS, And MSNBC Lead The Way While Overall Network And Cable Coverage Of Money In Politics Lags

Since the start of the 2016 presidential election season, CBS and PBS have dedicated more coverage of the issues surrounding the crisis of money in politics and campaign finance than any other broadcast network, while MSNBC led in the coverage among cable news outlets. Despite polls showing Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape, most news outlets still provide little coverage of the current impact of money in politics and possibilities for reform.

CBS And PBS Aired The Most Money In Politics Coverage Among Broadcast Networks While ABC Produced The Least

Overall Network News Had Little Coverage Of Money In Politics, But CBS And PBS Stood Out With The Most Coverage. From when the first presidential candidate officially declared their campaign on March 23 until October 15, the date of the most recent FEC filing deadline, PBS made 27 mentions of money in politics and aired five segments covering the topic while CBS mentioned it 35 times and dedicated 4 segments. ABC and NBC, however, only mentioned money in politics a total of sixteen times each. ABC aired zero segments on the subject while NBC aired two.

MSNBC Produced The Most Cable Segments Covering Money In Politics, Fox News Produced The Least

MSNBC Aired By Far The Most Segments And Mentions On Money In Politics Among Cable News Outlets. While MSNBC produced 38 segments discussing money in politics, CNN produced nine, and Fox News produced seven. MSNBC also stood out with the most number of mentions made about money in politics -- 224. Fox News made 136, while CNN only made 69.

Both Network And Cable News Focused On Super PAC Fundraising But Rarely Mentioned Citizens United Or Dark Money

The Majority Of Airtime Spent On Money In Politics Issues Was In Reference To PACs And Super PACs. Broadcast network news outlets made 60 references to PACs and Super PACs, while only mentioning Citizens United 18 times and dark money five times. While cable news gave the issue of money in politics more airtime, the cable outlets similarly favored the terms PACs and Super PACs. Cable news outlets made 330 references to PACs and Super PACS, while only mentioning Citizens United 126 times and dark money nine times.

Majority Of Americans Think Money Has Too Much Influence In Politics, Favor Campaign Finance Reform

New York Times: "More Than Four In Five Americans Say Money Plays Too Great A Role In Political Campaigns." According to a joint poll by The New York Times and CBS News, a large majority of Americans believe money plays too big of a role in politics:

The broader public appears to see things differently: More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns, the poll found, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.

Those concerns -- and the divide between Washington elites and the rest of the country -- extend to Republicans.

Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans support requiring more disclosure by outside spending organizations, for example, but Republican leaders in Congress have blocked legislation to require more disclosure by political nonprofit groups, which do not reveal the names of their donors. [The New York Times, 6/2/15, Media Matters, 10/27/15]

Bloomberg Poll: “78 Percent Of Those Responding Said The Citizens United Ruling Should Be Overturned.” According to a September 28 article by Bloomberg Politics, a national poll found that “78 percent of those responding said the Citizens United ruling should be overturned.”

In a new Bloomberg Politics national poll, 78 percent of those responding said the Citizens United ruling should be overturned, compared with 17 percent who called it a good decision.

“Wow. Wow. I'm stunned,” said David Strauss, a constitutional law professor who teaches at the University of Chicago. “What it suggests is that Citizens United has become a symbol for what people perceive to be a much larger problem, which is the undue influence of wealth in politics.”

The 5-4 ruling said that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums in support of political causes. That decision, coupled with a lower court's rejection of a ceiling on contributions to political groups, opened the way for the super-PACs that are expected to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2016 presidential race. [Bloomberg Politics9/28/15; Media Matters, 10/6/15]


This report used Nexis to analyze coverage of money in politics on broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS) as well as cable news outlets (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News) during evening (5pm to 12am) and weekend broadcasts. Our analysis searched for mentions of the terms money in politics, Citizens United, PAC, Political Action Committee, Super PAC, dark money, campaign finance, or campaign finance reform. Our analysis covered news reports from March 23, when the first candidate officially announced their candidacy, through October 15, the latest FEC presidential filing date.