It has been said that "a lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoelaces."
As occurs during every election season, we see many campaign ads, particularly negative spots attacking a candidate, that are filled with lies and distortions. It is high time for truth in advertising laws to be applied to this dishonest practice.
Under federal truth in advertising laws, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates advertising to prohibit deceptive practices, but advertising for or against political candidates is exempt from coverage, as is also the case with state truth in advertising laws. Therefore, an ad for a product that explicitly or implicitly states a false claim that can potentially mislead a TV viewer into making a harmful choice is illegal, while there are no sanctions for dishonest ads that can affect how we choose elected officials who create and implement public policies that affect all of our lives.
When truth in advertising violations are found, a variety of civil actions can be taken. These include an order to stop running the false ads, correcting an ad to eliminate its deceptive content, and including disclosure in an ad to clarify the facts. But because elections occur under tight time frameworks under which such remedies may occur too late to undo any damage, political ads would require much more stringent regulation.
I propose that the FTC or Federal Election Commission on the federal level, along with state agencies such as the Michigan Secretary of State Elections Division, review political ads for false or misleading claims before they are allowed to run. Any ad that is in any way dishonest would be rejected, thereby preventing these lies from airing in the first place. This would be far more effective than the current practice of truth squads ferreting out falsehoods after the damage has already been done.
When a person lies, they are conceding that the truth isn't good enough for them, but the public deserves better. In a democracy, voting is our most important civic duty and we should make choices that are based on the facts.