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Group asks NBC to keep 'super PACs' off the air during Olympics

July 24, 2012|By Matea Gold
  • If the group unPAC has its way, ads like this one, from pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, won't be aired during the Olympics.
If the group unPAC has its way, ads like this one, from pro-Romney super PAC… (Restore Our Future / Los…)

WASHINGTON — A new organization that aims to fight the role of big money in politics is calling on NBC to decline advertising from “super PACs” and other advocacy groups during the Summer Olympics, arguing that they are “going against the spirit and values of the Olympic Games.”

The effort may be unnecessary, however. So far, President Obama’s campaign is the only political organization that has purchased network airtime during the London Games.

The impetus to target NBC was the news earlier this month that Restore Our Future, a super PAC backing GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney, planned to spend $7.2 million on advertising during the Olympics in 11 states.

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The new group, called unPAC, said Tuesday that it has already collected 15,000 signatures for a petition it plans to present Thursday to NBCUniversal Chief Executive Stephen Burke calling on him to reject such advertising. During past sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, networks have declined advertising about social issues such as gay rights, the group noted.

UnPAC is a project of Rootstrikers, an activist group founded by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, and United Republic, a nonprofit organization that seeks to stamp out corporate influence in politics.

The Olympics “is something that brings us all together,” said unPAC Campaigns Director Matthew Palevsky. “People don’t want to see outside groups manipulating and influencing the presidential election during this time.”

But there are no indications yet that any super PACs or advocacy groups will be running network ads during the Olympics. Restore Our Future purchased airtime on local stations in individual states, not on the network, according to ad buying sources.

A spokeswoman for Restore Our Future declined to comment.

Palevsky said unPAC’s petition could still affect advertising on local stations.

“Our members are confident that if NBC clarifies their policy on no advocacy ads from outside organizations during the Olympics, that their affiliates will follow suit,” he said.

NBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, Seth Winter, NBC’s head of advertising sales for the Olympics, told the New York Times that Obama had purchased $5.5 million worth of time on the network and its sister cable channels during the Games.

He said NBC would not object to other political ads unless they were based on false information, but urged campaigns that were considering advertising during the Olympics to think twice about going negative.

“What we’ve seen in all of our research is the creative has got to be upbeat,” Winter told the New York Times. “It’s got to be empowering. It’s got to be positive.”

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