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Who's Sponsoring That Political Ad? There's a Cool App That Can Tell You


"...how much money is behind the ad..."

(Image: Super PAC App Vimeo screenshot)

It's usually pretty easy to tell which presidential candidate endorsed an ad. It can get a bit trickier to find out who exactly is financing that ad wedged between Taco Bell's slot for its new fiesta bowl and the local lawyer looking to see if you or someone you love has been in a car accident. And what of the truth behind the claims being made in the ad?

The site Government Technology points to two new apps that can help you glean more information about just who produced the ad that could be influencing your vote. It notes that even though it's required for political ads to have sponsorship information, "such information is often too cryptic to be useful." Ad Hawk, being developed by Bob Lannon and the Sunlight Foundation, and Super PAC App, being created by MIT graduate students, can help shed light on these details.

Here's how the Super PAC App works:

With the Super PAC App, viewers can find out with ease. While watching a political TV ad, a user can hold up her phone to identify the commercial and receive objective, third-party information. The Super PAC App allows the user to rate the ad, while understanding who and how much money is behind the ad, what claims the ad is making, and whether those claims are based on facts.

The app pulls up relevant articles related to the claims to help you verify for yourself whether they're truthful or not.

According to the app's website, the point of it is to help bring transparency to the 2012 election by diagnosing "what exactly ... all those ads [are] trying to tell us."

Forbes recently featured the Super PAC App and its creators. Here's how it all got started:

Born out of a class project at MIT’s Media Lab, the Super PAC App is the brain child of recent Harvard Kennedy School grad Jennifer Hollett and MIT Sloan grad Dan Siegel. The pair met and began working on the app in February, and are currently based out of the MIT Beehive Cooperative startup accelerator. The app is set to go live in time for the Republican National Convention at the end of August.

“I have an eternal interest in politics and business and was reading a lot about super PACs,” explained Siegel. “I remember reading an estimate that there would be $11 billion spent in this election – I remember thinking where is all this money going to? That’s the size of a small stimulus package.”

Since receiving funding from the Knight foundation last month, the startup’s programmer, Bob Caslin, has been hard at work building the app.

“Instead of just sitting there and letting the ads come at you, you have the opportunity to interact with the content,” explained Hollett.

Watch this introduction to the app:

The free, Super PAC App for iPhone is expected to go live before the Republican National Convention in August. Forbes points out the app will work for non-profit and regular campaign ads as well as super PAC.

The second app, Ad Hawk, allows users to find out more about the ad and its claims in the same fashion as the Super PAC App. According to Tech President, the director of the Sunlight Labs, Tom Lee, said political ads are almost like "augmented reality."

"It’s trying to annotate an experience with information that they ought to have to fully understand what they’re seeing and hearing," said Lee.

Ad Hawk is also expected to be released later in the summer and will be available for iPhone and Android users.

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