A coalition of 18 groups that advocate for campaign finance reform are calling on broadcast media outlets to devote more coverage to America's broken campaign finance system and the need for reforms, especially as some estimates suggest that spending for the 2016 presidential election could top $10 billion.
On June 4, the groups sent a letter to the heads of the major news networks, calling on them to “take greater action in the future to ensure that Sunday political talk shows and nightly news devote appropriate attention to campaign finance reform.” The letter, which was sent to Fox News, CBS News, NBC News, ABC News, and PBS, comes after a series of Media Matters analyses indicated that the crisis of big money in politics -- an issue that is of deep concern to a bipartisan majority of Americans -- was rarely covered by these networks.
The letter went on to explain that increased coverage of money in politics is crucial in the run-up to the 2016 election because of the influx of "dark money," secretive funds given to political nonprofits and super PACs by undisclosed donors. As the groups explained in their letter, dark money “runs counter to American values of accountability and transparency that give voters the information they need to make informed decisions,” and substantive coverage of its outsized influence on the democratic process is more important than ever:
As the country heads into a critical election season, we hope your news and interview programs significantly increase coverage of the growing national movement working to elevate solutions to the epidemic of the unbridled influence of money in politics. Thanks to a series of Supreme Court decisions relaxing campaign finance reform laws, spending by candidates and outside groups leading up to the 2016 election is poised to approach $10 billion. Much of that will be secretive “dark money” that runs counter to American values of accountability and transparency that give voters the information they need to make informed decisions. Now more than ever before, an elite few can exercise disproportionate influence in elections and the democratic process at-large.
More than 150 organizations have endorsed a Unity Statement of Principles defining the values that should govern solutions Americans are seeking as they grow more and more weary of business and politics as usual. Millions of Americans are coming together across party-lines from all walks of life to demand solutions and in those places where solutions have been enacted -- they're already working. A recent New York Times and CBS poll found that “Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed.”
Because of this growing citizens movement, it is no longer a question of if Citizens United will be overturned and a series of reforms to modernize our democracy put in place, it is a question of how and when.
A bipartisan majority of Americans support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United. However, after the Senate proposed a campaign finance reform amendment in September 2014, a Media Matters analysis indicated that the amendment was largely ignored by the networks' evening news broadcasts and Sunday political talk shows, other than PBS NewsHour. Some may justify that based on the “political chances of it moving out of the Congress,” but how often does our country face a crisis of this magnitude? How often does the Senate cast an historic first vote in the long process that is required to amend the constitution, as nearly every generation has to address the major issues of their day?
This lack of coverage has persisted as new campaign finance reform stories have emerged and it is dangerous to civic engagement and our democracy. A Media Matters analysis of broadcast Sunday shows and nightly news programs found that these major outlets have largely failed to educate viewers about this crisis. For example:
- When Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn to draw attention to solutions that already exist to address the “corrosive influence of money in our political system,” only one of the 17 segments devoted to Hughes and the gyrocopter landing provided substantial coverage to the message behind Hughes' protest.
- When a coalition of 50 campaign finance advocacy groups called on President Obama to sign an executive order that would require federal contractors to increase their campaign spending disclosures, broadcast evening news and Sunday shows did not cover the letter at all. Nor have they covered the 700,000 petition signatures or nearly 90 rallies that took place in 30 states urging the President to act.
- When the Federal Communications Commission board blocked congressional Democrats' proposal to strengthen political advertisement disclosures in advance of the 2016 election, broadcast evening news and Sunday shows did not cover the issue.
Heading into a critical election cycle, the stakes could not be higher. Now more than ever before Americans deserve to know about the need for campaign finance reform. We urge you, as the heads of the major broadcast news networks, to take greater action in the future to ensure that Sunday political talk shows and nightly news devote appropriate attention to campaign finance reform. We are glad to meet with you to offer constructive solutions to improve the quality and quantity of your coverage.
The Agenda Project Action Fund
Ben Cohen and Stamp Stampede
Center for Media and Democracy
Free Speech For People
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Money Out Voters In
National Priorities Project
Pay 2 Play: Democracy's High Stakes
People For The American Way
The full letter can be viewed here.