Truth, lies and campaign ads
Federal Communications Act: “If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section.”
This campaign season, political ads are everywhere. The law says that if a broadcast station accepts ads from any candidate, they must accept ads from all candidates, and they can’t refuse any ads even if the ads are totally false. Lies and deceit are protected under free speech. This is why it’s important to know who sponsors campaign ads, so any biases can be examined.
Several recent television ads have attacked Catherine Cortez Masto, former Nevada Attorney General and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Most of these ads are sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, super PACs founded by the Koch brothers. The Kochs want to dismantle Social Security, slash Medicare, and give big tax cuts to the wealthy. They called Social Security “the most serious threat to the future stability of our society next to the threat of nuclear war.” Their bias should be obvious.
Here are a few ad claims, with the actual facts of the situation.
Claim: During the state’s foreclosure crisis, Cortez Masto hired an outside law firm to help her office. The firm earned millions in fees and then partners in the firm contributed to Cortez Masto’s campaign. The implication is quid pro quo.
Fact: Nevada was the leader in foreclosures during the housing crisis. With so many foreclosures, Cortez Masto needed expert help, so she hired an outside firm, Cohen Milstein. This firm would be paid only if they won settlements. They did, winning $38 million for Nevada homeowners and earning $5.6 million in fees. This victory was praised by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. Ultimately, Nevadans received $1.9 billion in relief, thanks to Cortez Masto.
Later, six partners at Cohen Milstein donated a total of $2,650 to her. Millions for Nevada homeowners, $2,650 for Cortez Masto. Pretty good deal.
Claim: Cortez Masto took money from taxi companies and then kicked Uber out of Nevada, costing Nevada jobs.
Fact: Cortez Masto received donations from transportation companies in 2006 and 2010. Uber came to Nevada in 2014. When Uber started, it didn’t have the proper permits. The Nevada Taxicab Authority complained, so Cortez Masto got an injunction for Uber to stop operating until the legal issues were settled. In 2015, Uber got legal authority to operate in Nevada, which it’s now doing. Uber was never kicked out of Nevada; it just had to follow the laws.
Claim: Cortez Masto refused WW II veteran Guadalupe Olvera’s family’s pleas for help when his guardian drained Olvera’s bank account.
Fact: Olvera’s family asked Cortez Masto for help in terminating the guardian’s oversight of Olvera’s finances. The state Attorney General has no authority over these issues. It’s up to local authorities, such as a district attorney, to deal with this. However, Cortez Masto “… created a Senior Protection Unit to ensure investigators and prosecutors had the tools to pursue those who abuse, neglect or exploit seniors,” according to Zach Hudson, her campaign spokesman. She also drafted a bill, AB 325, for the Nevada State legislature that “would require guardians to be licensed and wards’ assets audited to make sure there’s no swindling going on.” (Las Vegas Sun, 3/15/15) The bill passed; the only opposition was from Republicans.
Rather than letting seniors down, Cortez Masto worked to see that laws for their protection were strengthened.
Claim: During Cortez Masto’s term as attorney general, crime went up in Nevada.
Fact: Crime statistics in Nevada reached their peak in 2006 and then dropped dramatically. In 2011, crime statistics began to rise again, but they still haven’t reached their 2006 levels. Also, “For the first time in Nevada history, all the state’s law enforcement unions and associations have come together for a unanimous endorsement. The organizations backed former Nevada attorney general and candidate for U.S. Senate Catherine Cortez Masto….” (KKOH-AM, July 6, 2016). That’s a huge vote of confidence from law enforcement.
There are more false claims from the Koch brothers and the Republicans, but this gives an idea of how these groups work. Political ads can be helpful, but they should be carefully scrutinized. We want to choose our leaders based on facts, not partisan falsehoods.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.