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Here's My Take #4: Here's What I think About Campaign Spending And Negative Advertising...

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QUESTIONS: What should the campaigns spend money on and what do you see as the effect of negative ads? That's what I asked you -- HuffPost OffTheBus members -- to answer for the latest version of Here's My Take, our community think tank feature.

Off The Bus readers are, in my opinion, the smartest kids in class! A gold star for everyone! Welcome back, and thank you for keeping up the participation.

This week's first question evoked two types of responses: those who simply listed what is or is not acceptable for a campaign to spend on and those who proposed detailed plans of how to spend the money. These plans ranged from common sense approaches to entire overhauls of how campaigns run. The quotes I selected below reveal the truly diverse range of responses.

Your replies to the second question were, for the most part, overwhelmingly against negative ads. I did make sure to quote those who showed support in any way -- fair and balanced, don't ya know -- but there weren't many to chose from. I encourage you to keep the conversations going, however, utilizing the comments for this post.

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Now, onto your thoughts, (parenthetic asides are my own)...

On the issue of Campaign Spending:

Sara P. offers this: "This is not a direct response to your question; however, it is my ideal vision for campaign advertising. During the primaries and the election process the major television networks, radio and newspapers would be required to provide a certain segment of their advertising time to all of the candidates equally as a public service. These spots would have the candidate's speaking about their individual platform. They would be filmed without fanfare and distracting imagery, just the individuals speaking to the public. I think it is a lot harder to go scurrilously (and falsely) negative when the words have to spew forth from one's own mouth, as opposed to surrogates and imagery doing the dirty work for someone who can then distance themselves from the mudslinging. If a candidate is going to wallow in the muck and mire they should have the gumption to do it themselves so that the public can judge accordingly. This of course leaves out the vast amount of information flying around the internet, but I see that as the final frontier of free space for individuals to use without restriction. By restricting television, radio, and newspaper advertising to "just the facts," and not smoke and mirrors techniques, perhaps we could get back some of the dignity our presidential campaigns seemed to have lost-- and we could equal the playing field to make the person with the best ideas and the most forceful (positive) argument to be the winner, not who has the most money."

Sam Mann thinks, (I found this idea fascinating): "They should donate it ALL, and whichever has the most compelling do-gooder program would be viewed as the most effective, compassionately able to solve modern problems. Change the paradigm...tangible actions to demonstrate their capacity to identify, target, and help solve problems. Spend it all fixing stuff. Like filling sandbags along the Mississippi, or trucking supplies to New Orleans, or feeding the homeless...even mailing those curlicue light bulbs to every household in America, as a stimulus for that industry. Candidate package comes in the mail with the bulb, announcing, "Here, we know these are a few bucks more, so try this bulb for free (it lasts 6 times longer, btw) and if you like it, buy more over time." This holistic approach would show direct connection to people, would boost a new energy efficiency technology, help create a market for the new product, and save folks money to boot."

Berta Wilder says: "rebuttal and offense ads in swing states and in PA and VA to secure electoral votes. Positive robo-calling in areas receiving the negative calls." (I particularly like the robo-calling defense strategy)

Mairin Veith wrote: "Campaign expenses should include travel for the candidates (and the candidates ONLY).. as well as those officially working for the campaign. Media buys are a legitimate expense as is housing, transportation and food for campaign volunteers (shall I tell you how much pizza and cheap Chinese food I have eaten in the last few months?). Personal expenses are just that PERSONAL. This does not include $500 shoes, $2,500 jackets, make-up and other grooming supplies, $400 haircuts or any of the other nonsense that is counted as campaign expenses. If it touches your body it is personal and therefore should be paid via personal funds."

JoAnne Lindsley says: "Clearly clothing if pre-nomination wardrobe is not in keeping with the public nature of campaigning or the image that the campaign wants to reflect. Perhaps not Louis Vuitton diaper bags or wardrobe for an entire family. The kids are not running. Excess runs counter intuitive to campaign messages - both camps. My guess is that Sen. Clinton bought her own pantsuits and Sen. McCain buys his own Italian shoes. John Edwards should have paid for the $400 haircut himself."

Steve Gorelick thinks: "So let me get this straight.We are executive producers of a political system that is pure theater, and sometimes even superb theater at that. We review performances at debates and public events with an almost obsessive attention to voice, set design, personal appearance, and script. We tolerate a political stage where truth is only sort of truth, and maybe not truth at all. We lap it all up as if we were watching a revival of an Oscar Wilde comedy of manners, where identities and names and plots change with dizzying hilarity. And now you are telling me that, right as the show is about to make the move from Hartford to Broadway, we want to get chintzy about costumes and make-up? Sorry. We built the theater. We produced a show where a clueless governor from Alaska could show up in front of a teleprompter, read lines superbly, and catapult to prominence. Too late now. The audience is arriving. The lights are dimming. Maybe next time we can have a stripped-down staged reading where ideas matter. But for goodness sakes, you can't give someone a claptrap script like this and expect them to play it in street clothes. Our show is schmaltz of the highest order. Let her have her Clinique, her Blahnik, her Ralph Lauren, her Prada, yearning to disguise all the emptiness beneath." (I do so LOVE snarky!)

Jan Lowery offers: "We need to get rid of the traditional campaigns and go to strictly 4 or 5 televised debates, each on a different area of concern. Expenditures should be on those debates, a campaign site, publishing a biographical mailer that includes background, all business experience, and voting record (if any)." (Classic, clean, simple...I like it!)

Jan Landy believes: "They should spend money and anything legal that they feel will help them win. What should bother people is not the money they spent on the clothing and makeup, but the hypocrisy of what Sarah says you stand for and what she actually does."

Paul Kellogg says: "A question: what are considered standard campaign expenses? Certainly publicity - in the form of advertising. Transportation. Organizing at the local, state and national levels. A terrible cry has gone out over Mrs. Palin's wardrobe. But no Presidential candidate - in recent memory - and perhaps at all - has appeared to be anything but well-dressed and well-groomed. Though I think $150,000 for clothing excessive - I wonder if the cry would have been as great had the McCain campaign spent $25,000 on Mrs. Palin's wardrobe. That expenditure would have seemed more fitting for a Presidential campaign." (Ya know what...I agree!)

Michael Kirby wrote: "If the voter is willing to vote based on considerations that have nothing to do with being president, shouldn't campaigns be able to spend money on those things that the voter responds to? I think this is more a reflection of the voter, than it is the candidates. Certainly, Nixon could have benefited from a professional make-up artist before his debate with Kennedy."

Philip Gift says: "I think they should be able to spend money on anything they want, i.e. clothes, makeup, hairstyles, booze, hookers, midget wrestling, or whatever. What I feel is paramount however is that the books need to be open so there is transparency into the level of superficiality of the campaigns." (OK, the "midget wrestling" is what got this one in.....)

Grace Babakhanian, (fellow OTB writer), approaches it this way: "Illegitimate Campaign Expenses: Robo-calls - they are the equivalent of cluster bombs to take out one reputed Al Qaeda operative, clearly a coward's way of waging a campaign. All the money spent on Palin's and McCain's speechwriters, unless they submit to fact checking. Any money spent on McCain's coiffure - those thin strands pulled across his dome don't' fool anyone. Banners and flags as background for both candidates. Sending both candidates around the country. Just play videos at their rallies since they speak the same stump speeches wherever they go. All money spent on more than one month's campaigning for each election cycle. That ought to be enough time to get the message across."

On the Effectiveness of Negative Ads:

Hari Ganesh says: "The negative ads have hurt not just the republican party, but the overall image of Washington politics and politicians in general. We cannot blame people for hatred and racism, when such behavior is promoted by their highest leaders. "Are these our leaders? Is our country in such shortage of leaders? Does our society condone ignorance and hatred especially when we are trying to get rest of the world cultured" people who think do wonder." (Yes, we do wonder)

Carole Butler writes: "Personally, they disgust me and I wish they would be done away with, yet I understand their power. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am voting for Barack Obama, though I was an earlier Hillary supporter. When Hillary went Rovian with her 3 am phone call commercial I found myself repulsed. When John McCain came out with the now infamous "sex-ed to kindergarteners" commercial I donated to Barrack Obama's campaign in retaliation. When Obama first came on the scene and claimed he was not going to play into politics as usual I has buoyed by such a thought. I have read factchecker.org throughout this campaign. I would say the content of McCain's smear tactics have really revealed more about him than they do about Obama. That being said, some of Obama's less than factual advertising have also tarnished the initial idealism I felt he once represented. Despite my personal response, I do think negative campaigning works to a certain degree, especially among those unwilling or unable to double check the facts for themselves. I feel that negative campaigning appeals to our more fearful and primal selves in a subconscious manner that is hard to digest by critical methods. Even when a negative advertisement is so outrageous and obviously false, its residual "slime" can stay with the voter. In this way, it can be effective, even though it bodes poorly for our democratic process and reflects badly on our system at large. What we have witnessed during this campaign, however, is that over saturation of negative campaigning (Steve Schmidt's " we are going all negative") may just backfire if not balanced with a strong enough positive identity provided as an alternative to the all that negativity. We have also witnessed that while the base of each campaign may back the negative dialogue and feel justified that their candidate is right, that widely sought after independent voter does not. I can only hope this trend is noticed by the strategists for next time." (Well said, I think "residual slime" encapsulates it perfectly)

Kris DiGiovanni thinks: "The turn people against one another. The create division where none existed before and increase perceptions that differences are bad rather than something to be embrased. They inspire hate and bring out the worst in people."

Libi says: "They turn me off and they stir up the crazies." (Succinct!)

Rose Richmond sums it up thus: "I think the result of negative ads more by McCain, than Obama has been division of people, no hope of a solution to anything, and a great disservice to America. It has made him appear to be bitter and willing to win at any cost to Americans. Lies, half-truths, misstatements, and racial connotations have created a situation that will last long after the election is over. Sad."

Joan Kark took a positive approach: "I like the 2 minute ad where Obama talks directly to the camera, outlining his plans. That's positive. But, I also believe you have to run ads countering the negative ads of the McCain campaign. Without a response, a viewer might believe the negatives."

Carol Noel says: "I think they should get rid of negative ads, it's bad for the whole country." (So there!)

Melissa Hapke, (fellow OTB writer and groovy chick!), writes: "To be honest, I've gotten to the point that I hit the mute button when a McCain ad comes on and turn the volume up when Obama's come on. I think, if anything, McCain's negative ads are pushing more people toward Obama/Biden. We've had enough ugly the last 8 years, that people are tired of it I think. I know I am. It's often said that Republicans know how to campaign, but don't know how to govern. I think this time around, they've forgotten how to campaign as well."

Heather Pidcock says: "They tend to push independent voters away. What particularly disturbs me about McCain's negative ads is that they instill fear and hatred into the base of the Republican party. This kind of fear and hatred could potentially incite violence." (She was proven correct the next day by the thwarted plot against Obama and those schools)

Alfredo de la Rosa thinks: "To the extent and degree they resonate with some of the electorate, when used strategically, they can be extremely effective."

Philip Gift further states: "I think with the advances in information technology and the increase in the number of Bloggers, the impact and overall effect of negative ads has been greatly reduced." (An excellent point that only Philip made)

Lisa Nicholson says: "I think negative ads hurt the ones doing it. I was brought up in a military officers family in the 50s and 60s. The Golden Rule and Thumper's Mama were the two biggest "non-military" rules we had. There were 3 girls within 21 months of age - so getting along was a premium. I still believe that. I think it makes you look desperate, mean, usually ill informed, and often - it makes you look like a liar because what you are saying is a flat out lie. Once you lose credibility in a negative ad - you've lost it forever with me." (Ah...."do unto others"....should be easy to do, no?)

Betty Shindler thinks: "They make people "take note" of some things they would otherwise not notice. There is a point where there gets to be too many negative ads. I think all Presidential candidates should only be allowed federal funds for campaigns."
Nannette Isler, M.D. writes: "I think they lower the tone of the race. Instead of upstanding running for a very important office, it seems more like gutter rats vying for king of the slime pile. From a practical standpoint, they may be temporarily effective. So if timed correctly, they may sway an election. However, I think that candidates who are elected on the basis of negative ads, since they are not elected on the basis of substance, may end up being less effective once in office. So negative ads, if they are effective may serve to reduce the quality of our government."

Those are some of Your Takes, there will be one more posting before the election - - keep an eye out! Please feel free to continue the discussion on the above issues here, using the comment threads.

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Money image via The Daily Rant.