California’s ‘New Deserts’ Are Flooded with Misleading Political Ads

Op-Ed: Misleading political TV ads are filling up California’s ‘news deserts’

Updated 10:53 pm, Friday, June 8, 2018

California’s ‘news deserts’ are being flooded and poisoned with misleading political ads, according to a recently released report and two new analyses conducted by the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s because state campaigns increasingly rely on deceptive and expensive social media ads — where voters are not well informed about candidates or causes, and can be overwhelmed by online misinformation, said PIRG’s Brian Fikkert, lead author of the report on “California’s Political News Drought.”

“All of these things combined have left California’s ‘news deserts’ to turn into ‘news deserts,’ with political ads filling them to capacity,” he said. “These ads are often misleading, and some of them are downright harmful.”

According to PIRG’s new report on the state, from 2014 to 2018, there were 4,788 Facebook ads purchased or sponsored in California, up from 2,566 ads purchased or sponsored in 2016, and up more than 1,000 from about 4,600 ads purchased or sponsored from 2014 to 2015.

The top five ads purchased by the campaigns of several statewide and federal candidates in California since 2014 include:

1. John Mulholland in 2014 — “How does California get so much water?”

Mulholland is the incumbent in the June 2018 race for California’s 22nd Congressional District. He faces a challenge from Democrat Colin Allred and a handful of other Democrats who have been running ads that they say “support” him based on misinformation from a right-wing conspiracy website.

PIRG says the Mulholland ads are “especially deceptive” because they make an unsubstantiated claim about Mulholland receiving an “extra $200,000” in donations from the wealthy and then saying he “putting his donor cash into the district.”

2. Steve Knight in 2014 — “Our Congress is a joke”

Knight, an incumbent Republican in the race for California’s 11th Congressional District, is being challenged by Democrat Bob Huffmann. Though PIRG says the

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