Legal to Lie? One Native Arkansan is Calling for Political Ad Change

LITTLE ROCK, AR - A native Arkansan is calling for change in political ads on the airwaves. The movement is a call to action for everyday folks to demand honesty from politicians who air the ads. 

Advertising laws in the United States protect consumers from false claims regarding everything from cars to toilet paper. But courts have interpreted freedom of speech to include political advertising, meaning it's perfectly legal to lie in a campaign advertisement.

A politician could sue the rival camp for libel, but by the court case was concluded the election would likely be over.

Native Arkansan Harriet Levin-Belkind founded HonestAds.org as an effort to put honesty into political advertising. She spent much of her life in the advertising/branding industry, and she eventually reached her limit on what she was seeing take place in political ads.

"I don't think people realize that it's legal to lie in those ads," Belkind said. "But I do think people are tired of the negativity. The regular people we speak to are usually relieved we're trying to do something about it."

Belkind was personally tired of seeing the deception in political television ads, and decided to try to take action.

"A candidate's endorsement at the end of the ad is virtually meaningless," she said. "It's basically just checking a box to get the lowest ad rate. It doesn't really tell us if the candidate believes the ad is true."

And that's what HonestAds.org is looking to change. On the site, voters can enter their ZIP code and a message will be sent to candidates in their area asking them to add "the truth" to that endorsement.

"We don't really care if the candidate likes the advertisement. We want to know if they'll stand by the ad as truthful," Belkind said. "Adding those two words into the end to make it 'and I approve the truth of this message' is really important."

Belkind believes voters have to begin to not only speak with a literal message to politicians but also a figurative one: with their vote.

"You know, if you're in a place where your mind is made up about wanting truth from politicians, people can prove that by voting that way," she said. "I, for instance, voted in the New York mayoral election. I ended up voting for a third party candidate because I had just had it with the negativity of the campaigns."

HonestAds.org is also meant to serve as a portal for people who want to get informed. It includes links to research, true/false breakdowns of issues that play roles in elections and links to other fact-finding organizations who comb through the mountains of ads on the airwaves. It's intentional non-partisan, aiming to break through the noise and just provide people with facts backed up with citations for where they come from.

"I believe that would be a good idea for news organizations to require as well," Belkind said. "Think of if in Arkansas, for example, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked for politicians to cite the sources of the information they claim as facts in their ads and include those citations along with it."

Belkind believes that politicians providing that information will provide more transparency and clarity to voters, where a refusal to provide that information would send a message to voters as well.

Ultimately, Belkind thinks it can be more than just an idealized effort.

"I have people who work in politics who, when I tell them about this effort, they sort of just pat me on the head and say it's nice. When I talk to the average person on the street, they want to see that kind of change and want to know how to get involved. I think there may be a disconnect there between politicians and what the public really thinks."

To send a message to candidates in your area, asking them to stand by the truth in their ads, click here.



To send a message to your candidates, visit honestads.org.

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