Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Who’s really behind that ad?

August 18, 2015

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If you’re in a battleground state, you’ve already noticed political ads on TV, radio and strategic spots on the web. But, do you know who actually placed them?

The Associated Press studied ads that are being run by Opportunity News Media. To no surprise, it isn’t a news organization. It’s a conservative group backing Republican candidates, although its website features news stories.

According to the AP, Opportunity has already run $3 million in ads in Colorado and Ohio. They’ve run 3,000 times in those two states, and a similar campaign is underway in Pennsylvania.

Filled with children, workers and people of different ethnic (backgrounds), the ads promote Republicans as interested in creating jobs, improving access to education and caring for the middle class. Many of the 30-second spots end with rays of sunlight peeking out from clouds as an upbeat female narrator says, “There are people who still believe opportunity lives in America, and we call ourselves Republicans.”

But, there’s no easy way to tell who Opportunity is. The AP found that Opportunity News Media LLC incorporated last year in Delaware, a state that requires very little information for such registration.

As a private company without any direct connection to politics, it does not have to disclose the source of its money. That led Arizona State professor and technology journalist Dan Gillmor to mention a new term.

Opinion laundering is a key tool for cowardly rich people in America, and they’re getting more brazen. http://t.co/Og3vpXbI3E

— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) August 17, 2015

The AP says the ads point viewers to a news website, opportunitylives.com. Its editor is John Hart, a former staffer for recently retired Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. He describes the site’s news content as “unapologetically conservative.”

(Note: you can’t browse the site without signing up for Opportunity’s newsletter.)

The Opportunity News Media example points up the difficulty that political and business journalists will have in the coming year in identifying who is behind political ads.

For story ideas, keep track of the ads that are running in your city and state. Trace the ads as far as you can. Use sites like OpenSecrets.org to try to find information about supporters of those groups. And, see our tips on finding the money in politics.

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