PRWeek: What's been the impact of these reports in the past?
Fritz: They've had a strong impact because they are the one place people can go for that kind of information. The project this year is different from projects in the past years. In the past, they just looked at the top presidential candidates and their fundraising. This year we decided to do a more systematic look at how things work.
PRWeek: Can give in a nutshell what the conclusions of the report were?
Fritz: It basically says that these independent groups are proliferating. They were originally called 527s because they were based on that part of the IRS code. But now they are exploring a number of different areas of the IRS code, and some of these groups are even going to for-profit [status]. The benefit of that is [that] they don't have to disclose their contributors.
PRWeek: And those ads become the focus of media coverage, crowding out coverage of policies?
Fritz: Yes. It's hard as a TV watcher to discern the difference between these independent groups and the candidate. But there is of course the deniability, when it comes down right to it. The other axiom of advertising is that independent advertising is more negative.
PRWeek: How did you find the groups to be when you contacted them for this story? Helpful?
Fritz: No, they were very unhelpful. Strangely enough, since you cover the PR aspect of it, Fenton Communications, which represents MoveOn.org, never returned my phone calls. [I'm] not sure if they didn't want to talk to me or were just disorganized or just had more important people to talk to.
PRWeek: Do you generally have good relationships with communications people at companies or organizations?
Fritz: I'll tell you, you're talking to an old, old timer. I started covering Washington in the early 1970s. In those days, the people in that business often called themselves public information people. There was a certain element of their business designed to educate. What I find now is that, first of all, [communications] doesn't seem to be a job for very mature people. I don't mean that as a criticism, it's just that the people who take these jobs are very young.
Name: Sara Fritz
Title: Contributing writer
Outlet: Center for Public Integrity
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.publicintegrity.org