By Christopher Gunty
The election commercials are everywhere. Just try to watch the evening news or a night of TV without seeing at least a dozen commercials for this candidate or that, or for or against this proposition. The ads can even conflict with one another – without checking the facts, you can easily be confused or misinformed. Spending on Question 7 alone in Maryland – the casino measure – is already upwards of $20 million. Add in what the presidential candidates and those who seek a win in state and federal battles, and the ads – and accompanying dollars – are overwhelming.
As a nonprofit newspaper that needs advertising revenue to make the bottom line, the Catholic Review could use a portion of what’s being spent this election season. However, as tempting as it is, we will have none of it.
Years ago, the Catholic Review addressed the concerns of political advertising, and decided to stay above the fray.
IRS regulations for nonprofit organizations and publications place some restrictions on acceptance of political ads. Among other things, if ads for one candidate in a race are accepted, ads from all candidates must be accepted. So, if one candidate wanted to place an ad noting his or her stance against abortion, we would also be required to accept an ad from a candidate who supports unrestricted legalized abortion. Although that would not be the most advisable message to put in a Catholic publication – you have to know your audience – if a candidate supported such a stance, we would have to allow his or her ad if we accepted any ads for that race.
There is more discretion when it comes to “issue ads,” that is, those promoting a stance on ballot questions before an election or other political topics, outside the election season. We could decide to accept only ads supporting Question 4 (regarding the DREAM Act, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants) or against Question 6 (regarding same-sex marriage, see our Oct. 18 edition), where those positions align with the church preference on the issues, as supported by the state’s bishops and the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Even so, we continue our ban on all political ads – candidate ads, political action committee ads and direct endorsement ads for referenda. We have other ways to inform our readers about the topics in the election.
Our series on key issues in this election year (see pages A5- 6 for a detailed discussion of Question 4) helps to inform the Catholic conscience. The series focuses on some topics on which Maryland’s bishops and their counterparts across the country have a strong voice: poverty; the HHS mandate that all employers, including those with religious objections, provide coverage for contraceptives and some abortifacients if they provide health care coverage; abortion; the DREAM Act, and same-sex marriage. We have also reported extensively this year on religious freedom concerns. In our Oct. 18 edition, we will publish the results of the Maryland Catholic Conference’s survey of candidates.
We believe the news series and the survey are more effective at educating our readers than accepting political ads. Not accepting ad dollars from political organizations allows us to dissect the important issues for our audience.
Ultimately, it’s not our place to advise your vote directly, but to help you be a faithful citizen – a voter with a well-formed and well-informed conscience.
Before you make your choice this November, don’t just listen to the TV and radio ads; study the candidates and issues.
Gunty is the associate publisher/editor of the Catholic Review