With last week’s Republican national convention being followed by the Democrats’ this week, the general election season, for all intents and purposes, is officially under way.
Pardon Marylanders who believed it already was in full force, given the television advertising surrounding the recent special session of the General Assembly and a proposed Prince George’s County casino.
Backers and opponents of the casino spent more than $1 million on mass media advertising in the weeks prior to the special session, which was held last month. Who was behind a good chunk of the advertising, however, remains hazy.
It’s widely assumed competing gaming interests were bankrolling the campaigns. One group paying for the pro-gambling ads was linked to The Peterson Cos., which owns National Harbor in Prince George’s. And an MGM Resorts spokesman told The Baltimore Sun that his company, which would run a National Harbor casino, also contributed to the cost of pro-casino advertising.
But the list of financial contributors remains largely undisclosed because the two sides use tax-exempt organizations that can legally keep the names secret.
The lack of donor transparency probably will gain more attention in the nine-plus weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
The pro- and anti-gambling forces likely are to step up their messages directly to the voters, who have the final say on expanded gaming in Maryland.
In addition, voters can expect a huge influx of spending on broadcast advertising surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage, another general election ballot question.
Supporters of same-sex marriage say they can predict what opponents will say in the expected ads, similar to what happened in California. Part of the message will be that if the referendum passes, schoolchildren will be taught about gay marriage in class. The supporters say this is not true. They also predict that the ads will inveigh that clergy will be forced to perform gay marriages against their religion, but the ballot language makes clear that they would be exempt.
Meanwhile, John Waters, Susan Sarandon and former first daughter Barbara Bush are among the celebrities expected to appear at a Sept. 13 fundraiser in behalf of the Maryland ballot question. Tickets for the event reportedly range from $250 to $25,000. Surely, a lot of money will be generated for the Maryland effort.
Another ballot cause that could spur ad spending is the Dream Act, which would allow some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition in Maryland. Emotions run high on both sides of the issue. And, a perhaps-less-contentious, but still important, statewide ballot question concerns the recently approved congressional redistricting map.
With all the statewide issues being meaty — and a presidential election and some local ballot questions thrown into the mix — the potential for overblown assertions and claims, particularly in ads, is high. Voters who don’t do any homework risk being lost. More so than in most elections, they face an awesome responsibility this year.