SuperPac Apps Expose Political Ad Funders

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Super Pac App Goes "Shazam" (photo credit, Justin Adelson)

Want to know who’s spending the big bucks to influence your vote this election? Two apps launched yesterday – Super Pac App  for the iPhone and the Ad Hawk app for iPhone and Android devices – can offer insights.

Both use audio recognition technology similar to that deployed  for the popular music identifying Shazam and SoundHound.  Instead of cluing that it’s Gotye or Emeli Sande you love,  these high tech tools identify the ad-sponsoring Super Pacs. That is, those semi-secretive organizations which, for the first time in presidential election history, have the legal right  to raise and spend unlimited funds donated  by corporations, labor unions and individuals to sway your vote.

Gotta wonder how MIT grads (and ultra-conservative billionaire activists) Charles and  David Koch feel that their alma mater‘s MIT Media Lab dreamed up the Super Pac App and got it rolling with financial support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Available  for iPhones,  this spiffier of the two new political enlightenment tools lets you discover (to a degree) whose  money  and how much is behind a  commercial.  You can then rate it on fairness/deceptiveness, compare others’ judgments and dig deeper into the ad’s claims. “This app is an opportunity to educate and engage voters, in a way that makes traditional political TV advertising more interactive as well as accountable,” said app co-developer Jennifer Hollett.

Focused primarily on the cause of political transparency, the Washington, D.C. based Sunlight Foundation is behind Ad Hawk. Its' on-screen eye candy isn’t quite as appealing – and one graphic  intended to  compare Republican  and Democratic spending on both positive and negative ads is downright  confusing.  But if you’re an Android device user, this is the “Shazam of SuperPac” apps  you’ve gotta use (Ad Hawk also works with iPhones ). And  Ad Hawk  does the job OK,  spelling out, say the clout that  Restore Our Future Inc. has been working to elect Mitt Romney - “Total received, $89,654,176, total spent $72,351,780, cash on hand $20,467,507.”

That's starting to look like real money.