Did you wonder why the candidates spent so much time talking about coal and fossil fuel in Tuesday night’s presidential debate? They fought over who was a bigger friend to the coal industry, discussed natural gas prices and domestic oil production. Obama mentioned wind subsidies but didn’t push clean energy like he did during the last election.
What’s different after four years? For one thing, the ads bought by big energy companies: Four years ago, clean energy companies outspent “big fossil” by 50%, but now the situation is reversed. So far this year, traditional energy companies have put more than $150 million into ads, while their rivals only spent $41 million. That’s a lot of corporate influence.
Don’t think ads amount to influence? Consider what the presidential candidates have said about energy policy over the past few years. As ad spending has shifted, so has their rhetoric. While they both used to talk about alternative fuels and hybrid cars, oil and coal have now taken center stage.
Now, we’re not saying the candidates get their policies from prime-time commercials. But companies buy ads for a reason: When big corporations flex their ad-spending muscles, everyone in Washington knows who has money to spend, and what voters will be talking about. Shouldn’t our debates be about what actually matters, and not what corporate influence tells us matters?