Want to know who the big winners will be next Tuesday on Election Day?
That's already been decided.
The answer: Your local broadcasters.
It's something most voters don't stop to consider in all the uproar about negative ads, Citizens' United, and the need for campaign finance reform.
The people who are making most -- over 90%, by most estimates -- of the money from all the obnoxious and ubiquitous ads this fall have names unfamiliar to most people: Belo, Young Broadcasting, Cox, Fisher Broadcasting, Media General. And big names, of course, like ABC, Tribune, Gannett, NBC Universal.
Why don't we see any stories about the broadcasters feasting at the trough each election year?
Simple: They own the stations that would air those stories. And they're not about to assign them, either. (We gotcha "public service" right here, pal).
"I can't find any celebrating in Colorado," The New York Times' first-rate blogger, Timothy Egan, wrote from that state recently about the Citizens' United decision by John Roberts and the Supremes allowing unlimited campaign contributions -- and which ignited cheers and applause in TV and radio broadcasters' well-appointed executive offices.
No celebrating, added Egan, " except by broadcasters cashing the checks of big special interest groups. "
I've been writing about the broadcasters raking in huge piles of campaign cash for 25 years in my newspaper TV columns. I can only surmise that the reason this has been such a well-kept secret is that there haven't been stories about this free money on local (or national) TV and radio.
Broadcasters, whatever else they may (or may not) be, aren't stupid. I would argue that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is as powerful as any lobby in Washington.
Senators and Congresspeople may walk around congratulating themselves about how special, important and powerful they are. But if they look in a mirror for 30 seconds, most of them know the unpleasant truth:
They are part of what humorist P.J. O'Rourke called "A Parliament of Whores" in his funny book's title.
Thoughtful, nationally syndicated radio talk host Thom Hartmann puts it best:
"Imagine you're a member of Congress," he says. "Every day you wake up and your first thought is, 'I have to raise $20,000 today."
It's a happy thought for broadcast-license holders -- the people who are going to suck up all that money.
Follow Bill Mann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/newsmann