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Legislative Issue Ads Analyzed in New Study

More than $400 million was spent on issue advertising targeted primarily to members of Congress or other federal policy-makers during the 108th Congress, according to a new study published in the fall issue of The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics.

“Legislative Issue Advertising in the 108th Congress: Pluralism or Peril?” analyzed the nearly 68,000 ads produced in 2003 and 2004 and found that large corporations outspent other factions in advocating specific positions and thus gained a disproportionate voice in public debate. Often, claims made in the ads were false and misleading, but went unchallenged.

“When moneyed interests consistently dominate political communication, the result may be public policy that represents these interests over others,” wrote the study’s authors, Erika Falk, Erin Grizard and Gordon McDonald. Falk is the former research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which helped underwrite the study.

As a result, the authors warn, “our representatives may be making important public policy decisions with less than full knowledge.”