Ordinarily this segment would be sort of a "meh" segment. After all, Sean Hannity and Frank Luntz gleefully celebrating Americans for Prosperity's dishonest ad is more or less de rigueur for the likes of Fox News. It gives AFP a free airing of their ad for the Hannity audience and then gives Luntz a chance to reinforce the lies. We've seen it a thousand times before and we'll see it a thousand times before November has come and gone.
But when you look at this segment and the ad in concert with the FEC ruling I received this morning, it really does shed some light on how these organizations who are not supposed to lobby, but only spend money on "issues", get away with what they do.
FEC ruling 2012-11 (PDF) was requested on a rush basis by Free Speech, an "unincorporated non-profit organization" in Wyoming. At least one of the three people who comprise this organization are affiliated with the Wyoming Liberty Group. Free Speech wants to run ads with scripts like this:
Across America, millions of citizens remain uninformed about the truth of President Obama. Obama, a President who palled around with Bill Ayers. Obama, a President who was cozy with ACORN. Obama, a President destructive of our natural rights. Real voters vote on principle. Remember this nation's principles.
President Obama supported the financial bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, permitting himself to become a puppet of the banking and bailout industries. What kind of person supports bailouts at the expense of average Americans? Not any kind we would vote for and neither should you. Call President Obama and put his antics to an end.
The FEC could not come to an agreement on the first script as to whether it fell under the definition of "express advocacy." They determined that the second script did fall under that definition specifically because of the sentence "Not any kind we would vote for and neither should you," which they determined to be a call to vote against President Obama. That is specifically prohibited.
The fact that they couldn't make a determination on the first one should tell you everything you need to know about why Americans for Prosperity and other organizations get away with what they do, and why people like Frank Luntz are so valuable to the effort. Any ordinary listener would clearly understand that an ad that uses language like "palled around with Bill Ayers" or "Real voters vote on principle" is calling for viewers to vote against the President. But because they do not actually use the words "vote for," the ads are in limbo at worst, or permissible at best.
There's something wrong with this picture. Let's have a look at the Americans for Prosperity ad, which Luntz and Hannity crow is the most "tested ad" of the current election cycle thus far. I take that to mean that they've run it a few zillion times across YouTube, Facebook and in GOP mailing lists to see what the reception is.
Factcheckers have already debunked the ad, but facts don't matter in ads like these. If they did, John Kerry would have been President in 2004. Here's the script for this ad:
"Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus, but that's not what happened. Fact: Billions of taxpayer dollars went to green energy jobs in foreign countries. The Obama Administration admitted the truth, that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas while millions of Americans can't find a job. 1.2 billion dollars to a solar company that's building a plant in Mexico. Half a billion to an electric car company that created hundreds of jobs in Finland. And tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights in China.
President Obama wasted $34 billion dollars on risky investments. The result: failure.
American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries. Tell President Obama American tax dollars should help American taxpayers.
Anyone with half a brain understands that this is simply an anti-Obama ad intended to paint him as President who used taxpayer funds to bolster crony companies and waste money however possible while sending jobs overseas. Anyone with half a brain understands that the message of the ad is "Vote Republican in 2012" or "Vote against Barack Obama."
But because the FEC can't get past their partisanship, this ad will stand, lies and all, and AFP will not be accused of abusing their tax-exempt status to air it, because it does not actually SAY what it implies.
This is the world we inhabit. It's going to be a long election season.