FIGHT BACK! Challenge 3rd-Party Issue Ads and Win!

Arm Yourself with the Citizen’s Guide on How to Fight Back Against False 3rd-Party Ads

prize fighterGov. Snyder is trying to fight an attack ad, although his sucker-punch probably won’t hit home. Yet, there are plenty of third-party ads attacking Michigan Democrats that can, and should, be taken off the air — and you have the power to do it! (See the 3-step guide below).

But first, today’s news brings word that the Snyder campaign is demanding television stations take down a Democratic Governors Association ad that claims his administration cut education spending by a billion dollars.

Third-party issue ads are subject to FCC rules requiring them to be substantially factual. Protocol is for the stations to contact the challenged ad’s sponsor to provide supporting evidence — to show their math.

In the case of education spending, even fact-checkers have had difficulties explaining the complexities of the issue. Earlier this year, the Citizens Research Council expertly tackled the problem, explaining that money flowing into the classroom is down under Snyder, but total spending, when pension funding is factored-in, appears to be up. However, in terms of real dollars, especially when adjusted to the Consumer Price Index — classroom education spending is down significantly under Governor Snyder.

MLive’s Jonathan Oosting recently summed it up this way:

A large chunk of state spending now is going to retirement costs and doesn’t necessarily make it into the classroom. The minimum per-pupil funding allowance is down since Snyder took office, and many schools have fewer students.

The DGA should be able to support the veracity of their ad — based on the numbers, but there is no guarantee that television executives will agree. They don’t like being put on the spot, and there’s lots of money at stake for the stations.

What Can You Do to Stop Ads Attacking Democratic Candidates? Plenty!

Time to revisit the easy, 3-step citizen’s guide Democracy Tree published earlier this year:

SAVE and SHARE — You’re going to want this information at your fingertips over the upcoming weeks.

Do you utterly despise the Americans for Prosperity Super PAC, loathe the Koch brothers, and long for the day that Citizens United is overturned? There’s finally something you can do about third-party issue ads that play fast and loose with the facts.

While candidate committees are in a special legal category, permitting them to pretty much get away with saying anything they want, — not so third-party issue ads (like those from Americans for Prosperity). They are bound by the same rules as all other advertisements — they must be truthful.

Ordinary citizens can, and should, do exactly what U. S. Representative Gary Peters recently did when he stopped the patently false claims made in an AFP third-party issue ad. Here’s how it was done:


scoldingAds in which the facts just don’t add-up, or cannot be verified, are prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission. They will exercise their authority by ordering stations to pull them from the air — but they cannot do so without your participation.

A legitimate complaint must be filed from a member of the viewing/listening public. A complaint is necessary before officials are prompted to investigate.

Anyone can do it — it doesn’t have to be a government official, or a person unfairly smeared in an ad.

The people at (a division of focused on citizen education and activism) make the cogent argument that when ads with factual errors are pulled in just a few market areas, it results in the same ad being pulled across the board.

A little bit of activism can go a long way.

As reported in the in the trade journal TV News Check column “Legal Memo”  they explain it thus:

The FCC has a long history of expecting stations, as part of their overall obligation to operate in the public interest, to avoid knowingly airing false claims in commercial advertising. That principle spills over to political ads, at least by noncandidates when a station has been made aware of the alleged falsity.

There can also be potential liability [for the station] for money damages, cease and desist orders, libel and slander, and the bother and expense of answering a complaint filed in court or at the FCC, by a candidate who claims to be the victim of false statements broadcast in noncandidate political ads.


Step One: Gather a few facts.

  • Identify the questionable ad with the name of sponsor (“paid for by…”) and a brief description — a YouTube hyperlink would help. Make sure it’s a third-party ad, and not a direct candidate ad. The fact-checker sites listed below will make that important distinction.
  • Determine what T.V. or radio station affiliates ran the questionable ad in your area.
  • Determine the time, and show during which the ad was aired — keep a pen and paper ready while watching T.V. or listening to the radio.
  • You must specify the questionable material or known lie(s). Although not required, it helps to cite a reliable fact-checking source in the media disputing the veracity of the ad. If sourcing a specific fact-check site, offer a hyperlink or a web address. Here are three reliable fact-checker sites: Michigan Truth SquadThe Washington Post Fact Checker; and

Step Two: File an online FCC complaint.

  • Go to the FCC complaint page found at
  • Check the “Broadcast (TV and radio), Cable and Satellite Issues” option.
  • Next, check the “Deceptive or unlawful advertising or marketing by a communications company”.
  • Next, indicate you wish to file online.
  • Then proceed to Form 2000A, where you will supply some basic contact information before describing your complaint, which is limited to 1000 characters..
  • If you are citing a TV or radio ad, complete the second section of the form. Located at the bottom of the page is a spot to attach files if you wish.

Step Three: File a separate complaint with the TV or radio station(s). While not required by the FCC, this is an important way to put them on notice and move the investigation along. provides a user-friendly site with links to email for all the stations in the United States. When you describe your complaint, be sure to mention that it has also been lodged with the FCC.

That’s it. You’ve performed an important service in the name of democracy. Good work!


Amy Kerr Hardin

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