Super PAC smartphone app follows money, checks facts


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on August 27, 2012 at 6:27 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 27 at 7:38 PM

AUSTIN -- The airwaves are full of political ads this election season, but how do you know who is behind them and whether their claims are true? It turns out, there's an app for that.

By now, many have seen or at least heard about the ad by pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, which has been criticized for dubiously linking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to a woman's death from cancer.

The super PAC is one of a handful that have spent millions flooding the airwaves with ads, but few outside the political world know their names, much less anything else about them.

So what do you do when you see a political ad on TV and want to know more? You can wait to catch the legal tag at the end and "Google" the name of the organization listed as paying for the ad, or you can let your smartphone do the heavy lifting.

Created by Glassy Media, "SuperPACApp" is a free app available on Apple's iOS which lets you find all that information in just a few seconds. Just like apps that can identify a song on the radio, SuperPACApp listens to the television in order to identify the ad.

Within seconds, it brings up the ad's name, the super PAC that paid for it and financial information about the super PAC. What's more, the app lists claims made by the ad and provides links to articles and fact-checking websites in order to investigate their veracity.

For those who use Android mobile devices, "Ad Hawk" by the Sunlight Foundation uses a similar method to identify ads and display data including the super PAC's finances and mission statement. Ad Hawk is also available for iOS.

Super PACs spent millions in Texas' Republican U.S. Senate primary, which was won by rising Tea party star Ted Cruz despite being outspent by David Dewhurst .

"What the super PAC money did was to level the playing field and made him compete 'mano y mano' with Ted Cruz, which would not have happened previously," said longtime politics watcher and Quorum Report Editor Harvey Kronberg.

Last week, pro-Cruz super PAC FreedomWorks for America announced plans to remain active in Texas politics. According to Kronberg, the growing involvement of third party spending in state elections has a destabilizing effect on a political power structure that has long been dominated by a handful of large private fundraisers.

What's more he says, when it comes to television advertising during a supercharged election cycle, super PAC saturation can be confusing to the voting base at large.

"The average voter who tunes in only occasionally is having a hard time sorting out what the money is really selling," said Kronberg.

With super PACs growing ever more influential, at least now that answer is just a tap away.