Sorry, your browser doesn't support Java(tm). The Truth In Political Advertising Project is a demonstration project of the Democracy & Media Education Foundation. Its theme is to play a major role in contributing to the restoration of integrity to the political process. It is scheduled to begin formally on September 16 th, and will include a special taping of “The Aaron Harber Show TM” for broadcast statewide on KBDI Channel 12 – Colorado Public Television. The Project will be completed in all aspects by December 31, 2004 .

Its purpose is develop a structure which can be implemented locally and used nationally to inform the voting public about the accuracy of political advertising – with an emphasis on television advertising because it is the dominant form of communication in federal elections in the United States. The thesis is that, if there are entities verifying the accuracy and fairness of claims made in political advertising, political advertisements will become more accurate and honest – which often is not the case today.

The Project’s efforts are directed at changing the very nature of the political process on the assumption that making the structural changes described herein will alter the conduct of campaigns. The Project seeks to bring a new level of accountability to the political process by holding responsible those involved with the way campaigns are conducted. The assumption is that, when fully informed about them (which is a key failing at times) U.S. citizens loathe the specific tactics deployed by and low standards held by candidates and their campaigns. The candidates and their professionals continue these practices because they find them effective.

Simply the existence of the TIPA Project should have a positive, mitigating effect. This can and will be seen and measured immediately. The Project’s orientation is to create an environment based on full-disclosure of the facts so candidates and their professional staffs begin to reevaluate their approach to campaigns. If candidates and their professionals conclude scorched-earth tactics and personal attacks no longer are viable, the tone and content of campaigns may change – with a redirection towards issues and facts.

The Project, by focusing on both the accuracy and fairness of political advertising (including television, radio, print advertising, and direct mail), should help restore integrity to the political process. While the effort is not meant to be preemptive in nature, the Project anticipates the very existence of the Project and the immediate and widespread recognition it will receive will inhibit some of the “dirty campaigning” which has become so prevalent today.

To make its work easy to understand and to make it visually attractive for news organizations, the Project will deploy two rating systems -- one for factual accuracy and one for fairness. The ratings will be depicted in a graphically-attractive manner, such as an “Accuracy Meter” and a “Fairness Meter.” These will be used as the primary image conveyed to media organizations and in the Project’s own promotion and advertising. The rating systems will be used on an individual advertisement-by-advertisement basis as well as for an averaging approach which then can be used to characterize each campaign.

The effort will be totally nonpartisan in nature. It will differ from previous efforts on the part of media organizations because there will be a separate and significant educational component related to informing the public about the accuracy and fairness. Past efforts have been focused on the evaluation of advertising but generally have failed to go beyond mild attempts to inform the readers or viewers of the sponsoring media organization. This has been due to media organizations being reluctant to truly take on campaigns and their supporters despite the division which exists in most organizations between editorial and advertising departments. The truth is most media organizations have a conflict of interest and are actively seeking a share of the billions of dollars spent on campaigns in each election cycle. Having an independent, nonpartisan source of information allows new organizations far more leeway as opposed to when they are creating the news themselves using their own staff. As a result, the Project intentionally has been designed to maximize the media coverage and exposure its work receives. Unlike other efforts, the Project also expects to have the resources to commercially publicize its results, when necessary. This will allow the Project to guarantee the timely dissemination of its findings. Several prominent members of both major parties already have agreed to participate in the TIPA Project.

The Project immediately will communicate its efforts to all 200 Public Television stations and networks across the country as well as the even greater number of Public Radio Stations in the United States . In this manner, not only will a model be created for future elections, but public broadcasting stations will have the opportunity to initiate efforts of their own in the current election cycle so as to influence the way elections are conducted in their states and communities.

A proactive media effort will be conducted for every evaluation. This effort will differentiate the Project from all others. That is, previous efforts at evaluating political advertising typically have been restricted to publication or broadcast of any evaluations only by the single sponsoring media organization. The Project, instead, will benefit from a broad dissemination of every critique it performs by a wide range of media entities. This new effort will include some combination of the following:

  • Nonpartisan reviews by a panel of political, academic, media, and community experts.
  • Dissemination of reviews within 24 hours of any new advertisement broadcast or publication.
  • A willingness to severely criticize advertisements which are false or misleading.
  • Leadership of statewide discussions regarding the relevance of every television and radio advertisement (i.e., not simply its accuracy).
  • Instantaneous contact with over 650 media professionals in Colorado .
  • Instantaneous contact with over 120 media professionals nationally (including major columnists – many of whom will take a great interest in the Project).
  • Development of a +/-10,000-person contact list for the most politically-active individuals in Colorado (i.e., from Precinct Caucus and Active Primary Voter Registration lists – the citizens most actively and regularly involved in the political process and who care about these issues).

8. Guaranteed participation by the State’s leading source of political television broadcasting – PBS Station KBDI Channel 12 -- with a broadcast reach to over 3 million people.

9. Potential participation by some of the State’s commercial television stations.

10. Potential participation by some of the State’s commercial radio stations.

11. Potential participation by some of the State’s public television stations (in addition to KBDI).

12. Potential participation by some of the State’s public radio stations.

13. Potential participation by some of the State’s leading newspapers and weeklies.

14. A survey research component to measure the effect of political advertising and the impact of the Project on the public’s perception of the accuracy and honesty of advertising.

The advantage the Project has is that, due to its nonpartisan nature, it can be definitive in its positions. Too many past efforts have been so equivocal they rendered themselves worthless. The Project needs to have teeth. It is time to be bold and to avoid the milquetoast efforts of the past.

As briefly mentioned previously, a critical advantage the Project has is it avoids the inherent conflict of interest commercial media organizations have when they consider criticizing political advertisements. This conflict is due to the fact these same organizations receive thousands and sometimes millions of dollars from political campaigns. In most cases, the media outlets want to maximize these revenues and are hesitant to criticize their well-paying, cash clients. These are “easy dollars” and media organizations lap them up (despite their public protestations to the contrary). Because the criticisms now will come from a nonpartisan source, many media outlets will feel more comfortable reporting the critiques as third-party- generated news. Because they -- the media outlets -- no longer will be the origin of the news story (as they are now, when they attempt to evaluate political campaign advertising -- which is one reason they have historically done it so poorly), the Press and other media outlets will be able to report more accurately and more comprehensively than they have in the past.

Additionally, because political television advertising has evolved to the point where there often are immediate responses by one campaign to advertisements launched by another campaign -- e.g., a response ad often is produced and broadcast in 24 hours or less -- a Rapid Response Team will be formed as part of the Project. This will allow the Project to be involved at all times. It also should serve to inhibit dirty campaigning. If funds are sufficient, there will be a component to scientifically measure the impact of the Project on voters. The current budget is only a draft and is subject to substantial modification.

By using the Internet to post reviews and to track the overall advertising integrity of each campaign, voters will have a continuously-available source of information. This has never been done before in this manner and will be a major innovation. Audio and possibly even video reviews of advertisements will be included on the Web site. Project staff members already are knowledgeable about these processes and can instantaneously accomplish these important communication objectives.

Another difference between the Project and prior efforts to address these critical issues is the involvement of multiple media organizations in the Project as well as academics. And the inclusion of members from both major parties will separate this effort from any other (i.e., in contrast to the often partisan or biased “Truth Squad” approach used as an extension of one campaign against another).

Promotion and publicity are keys to the TIPA’s success. Organizing and successfully implementing the endeavor will have little meaning if the electorate does not know about its findings. Therefore, the largest single budget element of the fully-funded Project will be an ongoing promotional and marketing campaign. This campaign will inform citizens about the TIPA and its findings on a continuous, in-depth basis. It will direct citizens to the Project’s Web site and its programming. The Web site will be updated on a daily basis during the election season.

Because the Project will be competing with millions of dollars of political advertising and the “noise” such advertising creates, its efforts will have to be very creative and strategic. For these reasons, advertising agencies and other experienced and creative entities as well as advertising and marketing departments at institutions of higher learning will be listed to assist the Project on a volunteer basis, whenever possible. Project staff already has seen great interest in such participation.

The base budget for the Project will fund the demonstration project for the U.S. Senate race in Colorado and other campaigns within the State for both the General Election. Because the U.S. Senate contest could decide which party controls the United State Senate and the legislative agenda for the entire Congress for the next two years as well as which nominees get appointed for the U.S. Supreme Court and hundreds of federal judgeships, it already has and will continue to receive extraordinary national attention. This is a plus for the Project as it will be seen instantly on a national basis.

The U.S. Senate race currently includes one candidate from each of the two major parties. Due to its national implications, the contest is anticipated to be the costliest in the history of the State of Colorado – possibly reaching $20 million (a record for any U.S. Senate race in Colorado ). As a result, the nonpartisan TIPA Project in Colorado offers an opportunity to help all participants focus on the important issues of the day – as determined by each campaign. Please contact Aaron Harber at (303) 666-6161 or or Matthew Silverman at (303) 915-4518 or for further information. The Democracy and Media Education Foundation Web site is Thank you for your interest and support.

Some of the most insidious political advertising, however, comes from demographically-targeted Direct Mail and these will be reviewed, as well. Furthermore, many of these attacks are anonymous, making it difficult to hold any person or group responsible. Accountability, therefore, has become even more important.

The Project also will take on the relative new phenomenon of Section 527 organizations which have been getting progressively more involved in political advertising. The fact that 527's have little accountability and are an avenue for almost unlimited expenditures -- and, hence abuse -- is a significant issue which needs to be addressed immediately. The 527's represent a potentially fatal flaw in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation – a majority of which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. By examining ways to use public exposure to address this issue, the Project could provide a significant national public benefit in both the short term (i.e., for the 2004 campaign) and the long term (i.e., future elections).

The use of graphically-attractive methods of displaying information is a reality accepted by the Project as that approach will maximize the use of the information by newspapers and television stations -- all of which prefer to present information in easily-viewed and readily-digestible form. This approach also will be consistent with the needs of the Project’s Web site, which will maximize its own impact by being graphically attractive, with data displayed in a manner which is easy to understand.

The public broadcasting system for both television and radio stations often is seen as a national network because the highest-profile programming typically is produced for national broadcast. Hence, “NOW With Bill Moyers,” “Nova,” “Frontline,” or “Morning Edition” are seen or heard nationally and are viewed in that context. While nationally-broadcast and syndicated programs are most prominent on Public Television Stations and Public Radio Stations, each station serves its own community and has the capacity to produce and broadcast programming for its broadcast area. What this means is that these hundreds of stations can create and broadcast programming -- as well as work with local publications -- which is specific to elections being held in various congressional districts as well as states (i.e., for U.S. Senate races). Hence, although the Public Broadcasting System is seem as a national network-- which it is -- it offers the unique opportunity to produce and broadcast local programming relevant to specific positions being contested in each station’s viewing area. This flexibility is in stark contrast to national networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Discovery, et cetera, all of which have little or no flexibility when it comes to such localized programming (i.e., the large national networks and the cable networks do not do local programming and the local affiliates do very little original programming outside of their news departments -- which totally avoid long-form programming).

A formal arrangement has been made with PBS Station KBDI Channel 12 to provide the broadcast time needed for the Truth In Political Advertising Project. The Station’s involvement is critically important because it is recognized as the State’s premier origin of Colorado public affairs programming. The Station now has the capacity to reach over 3 million people. It also now is available via DirecTV and Dish Network satellite broadcast systems. The Station’s signal reaches many Colorado communities, and responses to political programming produced by the Project’s staff have been received from a diverse number of municipalities including but not limited to Aurora, Arvada, Boulder, Brighton, Broomfield, Castle Rock, Centennial, Colorado Springs, Denver, Englewood, Erie, Fort Collins, Golden, Greeley, Greenwood Village, Lafayette, Lakewood, Littleton, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Northglenn, Parker, Pueblo, Superior, Thornton, Westminster, and Wheat Ridge. Currently, the Station broadcasts “The Aaron Harber Show,” during Prime Time at 9:30 pm on Fridays and at 2:00 pm on Sundays. The Project already has made arrangements with USA Talk Network, Inc. -- the producer of “The Aaron Harber Show” -- to use the weekly time-slot for the Project whenever necessary so as to guarantee it significant statewide exposure. Given the extraordinary difficulty of securing television time-slots for any public affairs programming (especially during Prime Time), this is a significant achievement for the Project. The Project’s most critical programming also will be made available on the Worldwide Web for viewing via the Internet on a 24/7 basis from any location on the planet thanks to an arrangement with Micro Source of Greenwood Village, Colorado, which is hosting the TIPA Web site.

The Project will enlist the participation of political party representatives at the highest levels. Project staff members already have excellent relationships with the leadership of both major political parties as well as some of Colorado ’s minor parties. The Project will seek a broad base of representation. This is best accomplished by having a large panel from which a critical mass or threshold of participants always will be available. Hence, a “pool” approach would be used to ensure that all advertisements are reviewed by a large and varied number of people. Hence, the structure of the panel will be designed to ensure fair and accurate reviews which always are seen as such and which will be impervious to valid criticism. The configuration could be as follows: (a) 4 electronic media representatives, (b) 4 print media representatives, (c) 4 advertising agency representatives, (d) 8 academics, (e) 4 political party leaders, (e) 6 campaign activists or representatives, (f) 2 political consultants, (g) 4 former elected officials, and (h) 4 others, including community leaders, or a similar mix. This would create a pool of 40 participants which should allow the Project to guarantee that any advertisement will be reviewed by at least 10 diverse members of the panel at any time (and the establishment of a minimum number of panelists and a minimum degree of diversity will be required for a review to be released).

This is a significant challenge which should not be overlooked. Though often the last element to be funded, performing “before,” “during,” and “after” survey research could be invaluable in assessing the true impact of the Project. Panel polling could be used to assess the impact the Project has over the course of the campaign season (i.e., by going back to the same respondents repeatedly) along with traditional random polling of different respondents so as to build a database of information on the Project’s visibility, credibility ratings, and impacts. Staff already committed to the Project have extensive survey research experience (including doing statewide political polling going back 30 years ago) and have formal data analysis training and expertise so this component could easily be included in the Project, with funding primarily needed for the data collection efforts. Project funds will be allocated across categories as well as into new categories, based on (a) the level of funding, (b) when funding occurs, and (c) the Project’s needs – which are expected to change rapidly over time.


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