After a long day of work, have you ever had your television programming of choice interrupted by the ominous instrumentals and sepia-hued images of a political attack ad? You probably just let the spin wash over you, too lazy to Google "Restore Our Future" or "American Crosswords" to figure out what these ad sponsors are really about.
It probably says something about how annoying these ads are that not one but two smartphone apps have been developed to cut through their crap. On Wednesday, an app called Ad Hawk, made by the Sunlight Foundation, and another called Super PAC App, made by Glassy Media, were both launched independently of one another. Each essentially is a Shazam of political TV spots: Let the app listen to a bit of a political TV or radio ad and it will search its audio databases to provide the ad's backer and info about the ad.
Now if there were only an app to block out political TV spots altogether.
We tested out both apps and found that they correctly identified "Run, Joe. Run," the latest anti-Obama ad made American Crossroads, a Karl Rove-backed super PAC. The two apps give different flavors of some of the same info: Ad Hawk gave a detailed blurb about the ad, noted the cash the super PAC had spent versus the cash it still has on hand, and even pointed out that the majority of its spent funds have gone toward ads opposing Democrats; similarly, Super PAC App gave us the political orientation of the super PAC and how much money it's spent and raised, but it didn't offer a text summary like Ad Hawk did.
Super PAC App does have a fun voting option that Ad Hawk lacks: Users can choose from four options, "Love," "Fair," Fishy," or "Fail," to rate an ad. (We chose "Fishy" for the "Run, Joe. Run" ad.)
The apps' databases aren't just limited to super PAC ads; they also catalogue ads backed by nonprofit interest groups and candidates themselves, according Sunlight Foundation spokesperson Gabriela Schneider and Forbes' Natalie Robehmed, who reported on Super PAC App.
What's missing from these apps? A list of individuals who are funding American Crossroads, or any super PAC searched for using the apps. This is something that will probably disappoint folks still reeling from the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010, which lets corporations and unions spend unlimited amounts of money on political ads. While Citizens United requires ads to disclose the group paying for them, they don't have to reveal the individuals funding the group.
As to why the two similar apps were released on the same day? "It was a total coincidence," the Sunlight Foundation's Schneider said over the phone. We reached out to Glassy Media with the same question and will update if we receive a response.
If you're so inclined, download both of the free apps to give yourself something to do the next time you see an attack ad. Super PAC Ad is available for iPhone, while Ad Hawk is available on both iOS and Android devices. You can watch a video for Ad Hawk below: