BROOKE GLADSTONE: Voters may not mind a shorter election season, but politicians aren't likely to start campaigning any later. In fact, Howard Dean's first TV ad has already been running for a month and a half.
HOWARD DEAN: Well I believe it's time to put our people back to work, to provide health insurance for every American, and time for Democrats to be Democrats again. That's why I'm running for president. That's why I approved this message.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Variations on that last line -- "That's why I approved this message." -- have sprouted up in TV campaign ads a lot this year because of a new "stand by your ad" provision that requires candidates to acknowledge responsibility for their ads. Brendan Koerner wrote an explainer on the new mandate in Slate.com and he joins me now. Brendan, welcome back to the show.
BRENDAN KOERNER: Thanks for having me, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this "stand by your ad" provision was an amendment in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act. What was the logic behind requiring candidates to let the public know that they had indeed authorized their own ads? It seems obvious.
BRENDAN KOERNER: Well it's based on a provision in North Carolina that's very similar, and the point of that was to reduce negative or attack advertisements, the theory being that in the past there have been campaign commercials where basically they were very negative or attacked the personality or character of someone, but at the end the little small print was too small to read -- you didn't know who was paying for it. And the candidate would say "Well I didn't see that ad. My ad agency did it." Or "my campaign manager did it." And some little guy would take the fall for it. Under "stand by your ad" in McCain-Feingold they actually have to have a huge visual or a video image of the candidate actually saying "I approved this personally." So the idea being, well if they're going to have to stand out there and be out front about it, they're less likely to attack their opponent.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But what about campaign ads that are produced by people other than the campaign?
BRENDAN KOERNER:There's a very clear cut language they have to use that's stipulated in McCain-Feingold. It's basically something along the lines of "such and such and certain name here organization has paid for this message." That way a candidate will have plausible deniability in case an ad is too negative or too vicious. They can say "Well I didn't pay for this."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You mentioned that his bill has been patterned after a similar bill in North Carolina. Did the mud-slinging decrease after that law was passed there?
BRENDAN KOERNER: Anecdotally that is what North Carolina legislators say. They say in 2000, when this was enacted -- since then -- there has been a decrease in these really vicious, underhanded, you know, "so and so is a closet child molester" kind of ads.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now Howard Dean's ad which we heard, weaves the acknowledgment into the rest of the message, but not every ad has been as, well, shall we say graceful. We've got a clip here from Representative Pat Toomey who's been challenging Senator Arlen Specter in the primary. [CLIP PLAYS]
NARRATOR:Toomey led the fight for the Bush tax cut and Citizens Against Government Waste rated Toomey the number one Pennsylvania congressman. Pat Toomey, a new conservative leader for Pennsylvania.
PAT TOOMEY: I'm Pat Toomey, and I authorized this message.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's not the most creative way to go about it, but it seems to get the job done, and the amendment doesn't provide a lot of specifics, I guess on how to phrase these authorizations.
BRENDAN KOERNER: I think what Dean did -- kind of weaving it into his patter -- was very, very smart, cause it makes it seem a little less stilted; less boring. I think the Toomey ad is pretty much par for the course. If you've seen the ad actually it's pretty much a traditional kissing babies and holding hands with his wife and what not. So it kind of fits into that old paid for by friends of Pat Toomey kind of model we've seen in the past. The important thing to note is that this is one of the stipulations in McCain-Feingold that's not being contested before the Supreme Court. You can be sure that come 2004 you're going to be hearing "I authorized" or "I approved" quite a bit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brendan Koerner, thank you very much.
BRENDAN KOERNER: Thanks so much, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brendan Koerner writes the Explainer column for Slate.com. [MUSIC]