A common misperception from the 1988 Presidential campaign between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis is that Bush team produced and ran ad that prominently featured Willie Horton. The “Willie Horton ad” is it was to be called, featured a criminal (Horton) and how he was allowed out of prison on weekends by a Massachusetts Governor (Dukakis) in part to that state’s prison furlough program. The ad mentions that while Horton was out on one weekend pass, he kidnapped, stabbed, and raped a woman and brutally beat that woman’s boyfriend. The ad struck a nerve with the public, hurt the Dukakis campaign, and Dukakis never recovered. Many who watched the ad would reference it as “Bush’s Willie Horton ad” when in fact the ad was created by the National Security PAC (Political Action Committee). This PAC ran an ad, by federal law, independent of the Bush campaign.
How would the public know if the ad was paid for and produced by an outside or independent organization? Sure, there was a disclaimer at the bottom of the “Horton” ad that disclosed the source. The disclaimer was about the size of the type of disclaimers that you see in a car commercial. A magnifying glass is a necessity for proper reading. In the last twelve years, identifying a commercial’s source became a bit easier for the public. With the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) (2002), candidates at the federal level who run ads from their own campaign coffers must say, “I am so and so and I am approve this message.” Most campaign commercials are run by outside organizations, so this BCRA requirement is not applicable.
What are your thoughts on the amount of ads that you have seen in the last few months? Now that the elections are over, you perhaps can fully process what has been transmitted over the airwaves in this election season.