Why Local Political Commercials Are a Special Kind of Terrible

When there’s so little available information, and you need so few votes to win, it’s easy to swing an election

There is a new worst commercial on television. It has officially defeated the last several years worth of Sonic advertisements, which once proudly held the top 12 spots. And the most egregious part of it is, like all local political commercials, I have no idea what it’s for. Oh and the second most egregious part is that it repeatedly uses the phrase “cookies laced with semen.” That’s also a bad part. Even Sonic wouldn’t do that.

The 30-second TV spot recounts the story of Mark Berndt, previously a third grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary in Huntington Park, who had, indeed, been feeding his students cookies laced with semen. To illustrate that fact, the commercial features a stack of iced oatmeal cookies. The white icing on the cookies appears to be a deliberate artistic choice by the director to represent the bodily fluids that many small children ingested. It is not subtle. Brendt is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence and a judge ordered a total of $140-million be paid to the families of his victims.

After the panning shot of cookies, the commercial shows a man named Al Muratsuchi. His name appears on the screen, it is haphazardly circled in fake digital black pen, ominous music plays in the background, and a narrator who should be dubbing the trailer for Terminator 8: Final Termination says, “Al Muratsuchi co-authored a bill for his teacher union donors, making it even more difficult to fire pervert teachers.” Dick move, Al! 

The final shot shows an iced semen oatmeal cookie falling and breaking apart onto a whole pile of iced semen oatmeal cookies, and then Terminator narrator guy delivers the absolutely meaningless line, “In politics, it’s how the cookie crumbles,” just so there’s one last punchline to make sure you realize that this guy, Al Muratsuchi—whoever he may be—unequivocally wants to feed your kids semen cookies.

What. The. Fuck.

You only know this is a political commercial because they use words like “union” and “governor Jerry Brown” and “politics.” But there’s never an actionable item for the viewer. It never mentions a candidate you’re supposed to vote for, a proposition you’re supposed to support, or a measure you’re supposed to shoot down. All this commercial wants is for you to forever associate the name Muratsuchi with the sexual abuse of children. It’s the grossest brand of superliminal advertising.

From the commercial alone, you would have no idea that Al Muratsuchi is running against David Hadley for State Assembly for the 66th District. Or that the bill he authored, AB 375—the one that supposedly makes it “more difficult to fire pervert teachers”—was supported by the L.A. Times editorial board, who said it “proposes reasonable solutions to the tortuous procedure for firing the worst teachers in California.” The California State PTA also supported the bill, as did the Child Abuse Prevention Council.

The commercial also doesn’t tell you that David Hadley’s campaign is currently being investigated for a second time by the Fair Political Practices Commission, and that it’s spent more than a million dollars in advertising over the past two weeks, with a good portion of the money coming from an independent expenditures committee backed by Republican mega-donor Charles Munger Jr.

I have no idea who those in the 66th District should vote for, and I have no opinions on the efficacy of AB 375, but I do know that forever coupling one candidate’s name with vague accusations that he somehow facilitated sexual abuse of children is shittily unfair.

The lack of assumed knowledge and available information is what makes these local political commercials so, so, so insidious. If you see a commercial bashing Hillary, saying her use of a private email server was a threat to national security, you at least know what’s going on: Hillary Clinton is running against Donald Trump for president of the United States, and there are thousands of easily Google-able resources that can help you discern fact from fiction to help you make the best, most informed choice. If you see a video of a red-faced, kinda-sentient, hate bean bag saying Hillary is an actual demon, you have a Snopes article to immediately refute it.

This concept isn’t limited to the Muratsuchi vs. Hadley race—almost every commercial for every proposition or measure has the same kind of gross, obscure way of doling out information. How many prop commercials have you seen where you actually come away with any understanding of what you’re voting for? Probably none. All you hear are catchphrases like, “Stop the special interest tax grab,” or “Prevent greedy trial lawyers from lining their pockets,” which both mean absolutely nothing out of context. Take this commercial for Prop 56—which would place a flat $2 tax on tobacco products—brought to you via major funding from cigarette conglomerates Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds:

Just look at that nice suburban woman tending to her nice suburban garden. She seems like she knows what she’s doing. Only people with their shit together have gardens. And if she’s against special interest tax grabs—whatever the hell that means—so am I! Never mind the fact that when cigarette taxes increase just 10 percent, smoking rates drop 3-5 percent, which could be saving thousands of lives per year—I don’t want any of those special interests grabbing at my taxes.

Again, I understand that this is politics, and it’s a dirty, messed up, big-money game where the entire objective is advocating your particular cause at all costs—and that’s totally fine. Being mad at those who make misleading political commercials would be like being mad at a Subway sandwich artist for making a 6-inch B.M.T. on Italian Herb and Cheese. It’s not a great sandwich, but it’s their job to make it. Still, it’s so much easier to swallow (our fucked-up political system, not the B.M.T.) on the national scale, where there’s the buffer of mainstream media coverage and millions of votes required to win.

In 2014, David Hadley beat Al Muratsuchi in the race for State Assembly for the 66th District by a grand total of 557 votes. Assuming the 2016 race is similar, all the misleading cookie commercial has to do is sway the opinions of less than a thousand people to essentially hand-pick the candidate. And that’s absolutely batshit. Get out there and vote, everybody. Just please do some Googling beforehand.