Guide to Watching TV Ads

With the November election just a few weeks away, candidates, political parties, and interest groups have begun to saturate the airwaves with advertisements. Since voters cannot avoid the ads, we developed this primer to help voters better understand how to interpret them.

Who pays for the ad is often as important as what the ad says. Ads about candidates will cost tens of millions in the next few weeks, and determining the interests of the people who raise that kind of money to put ads on your television is an essential part of understanding what the ad means.

Disclosure is essential because candidates may be tempted to do favors for the deep-pocketed groups that run ads attacking their opponents or supporting themselves. Rod Blagojevich won a second term as governor largely because he was able to outspend his opponent 3:1; we now know that most of that financial advantage came from donations from state contractors, job seekers and board appointees -- people who wanted and often received tangible benefits from the governor's office. Disclosure is the baseline tool to avoid the fact or appearance of corruption.

Most ads about candidates are covered by campaign disclosure laws. Whether the candidate is running for state or federal office determines where the group paying for the ad will file their disclosure reports: disclosure forms for ads about federal candidates are filed with the FEC, while state candidate disclosure is with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

If you see anything interesting, send us an e-mail. We're always interested in what's out there.