Demanding to Bring Dark Money into the Light

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Last week, 18 organizations signed a letter to the presidents of CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox News urging increased media attention to the issues surrounding campaign finance reform.

According to a recent analysis by the organization Media Matters, out of the 17 segments that covered the recent gyrocopter landing on the Capitol lawn, only one actually covered the intention of the pilot – which was to highlight the need for campaign finance reform.

The news media’s blatant neglect when it comes to covering the topic of reforming the campaign finance system is a disservice to the American people. Particularly in light of a recent New York Times / CBS poll which revealed that 90% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans believe that money has too much influence in our elections.

According to the same poll, 85% of Americans see the need to make serious changes in the way our country manages elections and a full 46% support a complete overhaul of the process. There is clearly a deeply rooted desire amongst the general public to see our government address this issue and news coverage from the major media outlets needs to begin to reflect that desire.

 

The time has come for CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox News to do their part and provide substantial airtime and thoughtful coverage to campaign finance reform.

 

Read the full letter below:

 

Roger Ailes

Chairman and CEO, Fox News

1211 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10036

 

David Rhodes

President, CBS News

524 West 57th Street

New York, NY 10019

 

Deborah Turness

President, NBC News

30 Rockefeller Plaza

New York, NY 10112

 

James Goldston

President, ABC News

47 West 66th Street

New York, NY 10023

 

Paula Kerger

President and CEO, PBS

2100 Crystal Drive

Arlington, VA 22202

 

Dear Mr. Ailes, Mr. Rhodes, Ms. Turness, Mr. Goldston, and Ms. Kerger:

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 ever 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 the places where solutions have been enacted, they’re already working. 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 show 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.

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