The latest and most surefire sign that the election season is in full swing here in Minnesota surfaced in my basement.
I was settling in with my husband and dog for some post-dinner TV viewing. But before I could pull up one of the dozens of episodes of “Shark Tank” in my DVR queue, I was bombarded with a familiar fall sight: back-to-back political ads.
My experience wasn’t unique. With just over six weeks to go until Election Day, and early voting now underway, campaign ads are hard to miss.
Footage featuring Gov. Tim Walz urges you to vote for DFL legislators this November. If you watch cable TV, you might learn the life story of Kendall Qualls, a Republican congressional candidate in the western suburbs. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith is on the air promoting her manufacturing plan. Republicans, including President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate hopeful Jason Lewis, fill the screen with warnings of a lawless future. Democratic nominee Joe Biden promises to protect Social Security.
It’s not just cable and broadcast TV getting bombarded. Campaigns are flooding the radio airwaves, streaming apps and social media channels, too. Over the next six weeks, the frequency and intensity of the ad wars will only increase.
Wading thought the political pitches and attacks can be a tiresome task, even for seasoned election watchers. But there are some tips and resources consumers can use to assess the ads and claims flying their way.
State and federal law require that groups paying for ads identify themselves to the public. On TV, the “paid for” disclosures are read at the end and flashed across the screen. In a mail piece, it’s printed somewhere on the flier. These groups often have innocuous and patriotic sounding names, such as “Citizens for Puppies and Ice Cream.” But with a little work, you can usually learn more about who’s behind the push.
For ads speaking for or against candidates running for federal office, such as U.S. Senate or one of Minnesota’s eight congressional seats, OpenSecrets.org can be a helpful resource. Search the name you heard or saw on the disclosure to follow the money. The summary provided should give you a sense of the top donors to the group, if available, allowing you to track whether it’s insurance companies or unions promoting puppies and ice cream. You’ll also be able to see whether the group typically spends for or against Democrats, Republicans or both. On the state level, the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board posts mandatory reports by such groups online.
Sites such as Factcheck.org and Politifact.com can help you gauge the accuracy of the claims themselves, especially in presidential and congressional races. National political committees often run similar claims in multiple states, upping chances of an analysis.
If you’re really stumped, you can e-mail pictures or links our way at email@example.com.
And if all else fails, well, you could always escape by turning off the TV and powering down your phone. A six-week digital detox sounds sublime.