Does Obama’s voice reference Obama? Certain conservative groups hope that the Federal Election Commission doesn’t think so.
An FEC discussion regarding what counts as a reference to a candidate is currently underway, as conservative groups hope to sidestep laws regarding donor disclosure while still running attack ads with clear, pointed messages.”Electioneering communication,” the catchy name the FEC has slapped on veiled campaign advertising, encompasses any TV spot run 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election that makes reference to a “clearly identified” candidate.
While any term that uses a candidate’s name – think “Obamacare” – is out, that’s just about all the FEC has managed to agree on. The American Future Fund (AFF) is capitalizing on this lack of consensus, and has floated a number of ways of getting around an FEC ruling, ranging from blatant symbolism (the White House and the Washington Monument) to mere using the president in voiceovers. The argument for the latter claims that the majority of Americans are so politically un-inclined that “only those familiar with President Obama’s voice will know that it is President Obama speaking,” according to Jason Torchinsky, AFF attorney.
If the American public doesn’t recognize its commander in chief’s voice, the AFF and other groups have a lot of room to play with. Many say the eyes are the most identifiable part of the face – maybe simply blocking out Obama’s eyes would disguise him enough so that only the most engaged citizens would realize who was being criticized.
While direct attack ads fall outside of the purview of this ruling, the AFF seems to have found yet another strategy within the safe confines of the rules. The group has been test running its “New Tax Day” ad, in which president Obama is shown pixilated. That totally counts as disguising his identity, right?
While none of the groups affected by the ruling have yet tried putting one of these work-arounds into their ads thus far at the risk of being forced to violate their donors’ expected privacy, it’s unlikely that the AFF is the only organization considering this strategy.
The possibilities are endless if Torchinsky’s assessment of the American people’s political engagement is accurate. If the audience doesn’t recognize Obama’s voice, what are the chances they’ll remember that he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? For bonus points, groups could reference Obama by the fact that the man was the first president to bring his Blackberry with him into the Oval Office; only die-hard followers would remember that tidbit.
“The father of the family with that cute dog” could also work – it’s so vague that no one could accuse the group of mounting an attack, but who could really ever forget the Obamas’ adorable dog? Bo might even be more well-known than Barack himself.
Whatever decision the FEC hands down, it’s certain to benefit the American public. If the FEC shoots down the AFF’s proposals, our television sets will be clear of that many more attack ads. But if the AFF’s argument is left standing at the end of deliberations, we’re certain to have a wealth of entertaining oblique references flood our screens come fall.