More advocacy groups are spending more money to influence this presidential election than ever before. And the two main candidates are breaking records for campaign spending. The resulting sea of negative ads increases the need for voters to carefully sort out truth from fiction in the ads' claims.
Fortunately, responsible folks interested in good government have come up with ways to lift some of the ad fog. Some media make a point to test the accuracy of TV spots. A website run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania also keeps up with many ads (Factcheck.org).
The site offers extensive sourcing, context, analysis, and rational explanation for a confused would-be voter. Take these two examples:
1. A League of Conservation Voters ad claims President Bush "opened up Florida's coast" to offshore oil and gas wells. Fact: the Bush administration approved a plan that keeps drilling at least 100 miles from the Florida coastline. "At the time," the site notes, "Bush's decision was hailed by some environmental groups." A detailed map is provided.
2. Pro-Bush ads claim John Kerry opposed a list of weapons, and voted against body armor for US troops in Iraq. Fact: Kerry voted against a few large Pentagon spending bills which included weapons and body armor, but he did not vote against those items specifically. Kerry voted in favor of Pentagon spending bills 16 out of 19 years in the Senate.
Stretching or spinning the truth only prompts voter cynicism. As the late US Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."