It is against the law to advertise you can cure cancer, but it is not against the law for a congressional candidate to say she can cure cancer.
This probably surprises you.
The “Truth in Advertising” statute enforced by the Federal Trade Commission says that ads “must be truthful, not misleading, and when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.”
But a political ad can claim you can outswim Michael Phelps and have three Nobel Peace Prizes while holding the all-time hot dog eating record for one sitting with no repercussions.
Why the same standards do not apply to political advertising is a head-scratcher of epic proportions. Unfortunately, lying in a political ad has been classified as free speech by the courts.
“The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks,” it says on its website.
Considering the issues Congress deals with — or doesn’t deal with — there is a pretty good case to be made that nothing affects consumers’ health or pocketbooks more than what Congress does.
When the FTC finds a case of fraud, it takes immediate legal steps to stop scams, prevent fraud and get compensation for victims. It protects consumers.
When politicians lie, they usually get elected and the consumer has no recourse.
There are two types of political ads. The first portrays the candidate as a person who should be considered for sainthood if they don’t win the election. The second portrays their opponent as a devil worthy of eternal damnation. Apparently, you can Photoshop horns on your opponent and claim the horns are real without any repercussions from the FTC.
I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb by saying both types of advertisements tend to err on the side of hyperbole, at best, and flat out lying at worst.
With three months of campaigning still to come in the 21st Congressional District, I wondered why steps could not be taken to hold our leaders as accountable as we do advertisers of hemorrhoid treatments.
I apologize for that visual, and yes, it was intentional, considering the state of politics.
Why couldn’t there be a panel, a committee of some sort attached to the Board of Elections to review complaints against campaign advertisements? News organizations can do fact-checks on these types of ads in a few hours, so why not have the Board of Elections review each ad within a 24-hour window before they are put in the public domain?
It was tried in both Ohio and Minnesota before the courts interceded.
The state of Ohio passed a law that prohibited a candidate or supporters from publishing known factual falsehoods about an opponent. Each complainant was charged with bearing the cost and responsibility for investigating, prosecuting and proving a violation with clear and convincing evidence to reduce frivolous claims or slow down campaign messaging.
The law was quickly challenged in court.
In 2014, Federal District Court Judge Timothy S. Black ruled that the state of Ohio should not be the referee in political disputes.
“We do not want the government deciding what is political truth for fear that the government might persecute those who criticize it,” Black wrote. “Instead, in a democracy, the voters should decide.”
That sounds reasonable until you consider they are often basing their decisions on fraudulent information.
The judge went on to write that it’s not always possible to tell truth from falsehood in political speech.
The key point is “not always.” Many times, it is quite easy to determine. But if there are no standards, no impartial arbiters to referee, the voters are left choosing the best liar.
That explains a lot about the state of the country.