In case mountains of campaign literature in your mailbox haven’t alerted you to this fact, we will: Nebraska’s primary elections are in 18 days.
For those seeking more information on the content of those mailers, the Journal Star recently rolled out a one-stop shop for casting light on political advertising. Our Campaign Mailbox project – available online at journalstar.com/campaign-mailbox – strives to better explain to readers the often confusing, always expanding world of election marketing.
This newsroom project relies heavily on readers to submit campaign messaging they receive, using the link above, and take note of any claims or details that may seem questionable.
Thus far, direct mail has dominated the discussion this primary season. But even with just two contested statewide primaries and most competitive races at the local level, several questions have rolled in – and Journal Star reporters are answering them.
The project has addressed concerns readers raised about both the Republican and Democratic races for Lancaster County treasurer and the GOP gubernatorial primary. So far, it has answered questions about the legality of a proposal by a treasurer candidate, an implied endorsement from a former elected official and what happens to voter-registration data sent to campaigns.
All of those have been received, researched and reported within the last week. No doubt more will come – and we implore you to reach out to us with both the innocuous and incendiary.
Political advertising has blown up since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. This controversial landmark case declared political spending was a form of protected speech and that the government couldn’t place spending limits on companies or unions.
Naturally, expenditures on political marketing exploded afterward.
A Borrell Associates report estimated the 2018 midterm elections to generate more than $8.5 billion in ad spending, up from just less than $8.3 billion four years ago. These stats aren’t even from presidential election years. The 2016 election cycle brought in $9.8 billion, which was lower than anticipated – something that would likely seem improbable to those who lived through it.
But that’s what makes this work all the more important. As Americans are inundated with more political advertising than ever before, it becomes harder to vet the claims made within it.
While rah-rah mailers that set forth a candidate’s platforms are one thing, we’ve all learned in recent months how sinister and invasive political advertising can be, through Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, reports on Russian trolls’ attempts to sway elections and other dubious claims.
When it comes to campaign literature, to borrow a line from the Department of Homeland Security: “If you see something, say something.” We’ll examine it for you and share what we find out.