🎁 'Tis the season to support public service journalism Donate Now
Political campaigns are secretly talking to PACs
May 13, 2022
Episode 663

Political campaigns are secretly talking to PACs

We also talk about facial recognition technology and pour one out for the iPod.

For today’s Economics on Tap, we talk about a sneaky way campaigns are communicating with super PACs. Coordination between these big-time political action committees and campaigns is illegal, but a new practice called redboxing seems like a loophole. We’ll talk about it. Plus, we discuss the debate about facial recognition technology and follow up on a conversation we had yesterday about the news on sudden infant death syndrome. Before we leave, we’ll play a round of Half Full/Half Empty, featuring a piece of portable music history.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

Tell us what you think about today’s show. Email us at makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voice message at 508-827-6278, or 508-U-B-SMART.

Your donation powers the journalism you rely on. Give today to support “Make Me Smart.”

Make Me Smart May 13, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams: All right, let’s do it.

Sabri Ben-Achour: All right.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, there we go. Hello, everyone. I am Kimberly Adams, and welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense.

Sabri Ben-Achour: And I’m Sabri Ben-Achour. Thank you to everyone for joining us this Friday for Economics on Tap, whether you are joining us on the YouTube livestream or listening to the podcast.

Kimberly Adams: Yes, we are going to have some news and a a round Half Full/ Half Empty coming up. But first, Sabri, what are you drinking?

Sabri Ben-Achour: I’m drinking this bright purple pre-workout. Because I am going to go exercise after this and it has a Beta Alanine which makes your body like tingle. Like feels like things are crawling on you. which I assume means that it’s working and some creatine powder. But that’s that’s what I’m – this is my bed that I’ve made for myself.

Kimberly Adams: Well, I’m very glad that you have that.

Sabri Ben-Achour: What are you drinking?

Kimberly Adams: Well, I’m sweating because I was just running around my house to catch my cat. Because I finally have, very excited my jasper tumbler. The swag.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh, look at that. Oh my god, that’s your cat?  Yeah, look, they look alike.  Oh, my God.

Kimberly Adams: Look. Can you see?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah. This so cute. Wait, is it actually Jasper?

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, it’s actually Jasper. They made like a cool picture of him. And not sure if I can get him to sit like he’s sitting on the mug. Let’s see. No, no, not quite.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, it’s very, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s close enough. Yeah.

Kimberly Adams: He’s so mad at me. Poor cat. Poor abused Jasper. Let me give him a treat. Yeah, you deserve treats for that, buddy. There you go.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh, oh my God. He pounced.

Kimberly Adams: Yes, he is definitely a pouncer. But what you all just saw was one of our very exciting thank you gifts because we are still fundraising and one of the gifts that you can get if you’re able to donate to Marketplace now – he’s still hunting for treats back there – is the Make Me Smile Jasper tumbler, which has the adorable little Jasper on it. And it has “Make Me Smile” over here and “Make Me Smart” on the back. And you can get it for the low low price of $10 a month, which is the support that we would really appreciate and you too, can drink out of your MakeMe Smart Jasper tumbler. Bourbon, pomegranate juice, ginger ale and bitters.

Sabri Ben-Achour Yum, oh that sounds so good. What’s the name of that drink again?

Kimberly Adams: What Kimberly had in her refrigerator.

Sabri Ben-Achour: That’s the best kind of drink.

Kimberly Adams: But in all seriousness, we really do appreciate everyone who supports us. And if the Jasper tumbler is not enough for you, your support also helps support our reporters like Sabri, who does all of these amazing, big macro economic stories and global economy stories and things that I often don’t even understand myself. And then I understand them after I listen to Sabri. So what have you been covering lately?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Well, recently, I’ve been reading up on artificial intelligence. There is a sort of strategic competition between the U.S. and China for you know, innovation in that field. I mean, China has been trying for a while to sort of dominate a lot of strategic technologies and the U.S. wants to do that too. So I’m exploring how that’s going. And uh, yeah, but yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you?

Kimberly Adams: I’ve been on Marketplace Tech, and we are digging into artificial intelligence algorithms, we spend a lot of time talking about the different ways that technology either perpetuates or sometimes helps reduce inequality. And that’s been really, really fascinating for me to work on. And you know, I’m based in Washington, and so much of the tech story right now is a policy story and how these big tech companies are going to get regulated. And all of that work that Sabri is doing that I’m doing that all the Marketplace reporters and producers and writers and engineers are doing, only happens with y’all support. So if you are able to do it, and you perhaps want a Jasper tumbler go to makemesmart.org/givesmart. One more time. Make Me Sm– oh my gosh, marketplace.org/give smart, I promise I wasn’t pre-gaming too much. All right, let’s do the news. Sabri, what do you have?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh, well, so I saw that. Virginia, and a number of places are ending their bans on facial recognition technology by law enforcement. So Virginia is getting rid of its ban. I mean, it’s not saying you can do anything you want, it’s saying that facial recognition has to pass a 98% accuracy test done by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and then you can use it, law enforcement can use it. New Orleans is going to lift its ban, California is going to its ban is going to expire, basically. And it’s interesting, because, you know, originally, one of the reasons why people were freaked out by the use of facial recognition was that, you know, early research showed it did not identify minorities, as well as it did, you know, white people, so. And which you can only imagine, you know, the trouble that would cause you know, if you have false false identifications, leading to arrests, etc, in an inequitable way. But but but, you know, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology said that a lot of progress has been made, that there are not those differences anymore. And at the same time, there’s been rising crime and violence in certain cities in states where that has sort of pushed people to welcome any tool available to law enforcement might use. It’s interesting. I, you know, those are both concrete reasons for either wanting or being suspicious of this technology. But I don’t I just don’t, I just don’t like the idea of me, you know, picking my nose in the subway being able to be identified. You know, I don’t know, I just, I mean, I know this is not a robust argument, but I’m just, I don’t know.

Kimberly Adams: Kind of makes you feel ick.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, like, I mean, I, if I have to start watching what I, what I do, and like when I’m like, out, and a night of partying or something and stumbling down the sidewalk, then it’s just gonna take the joy out of everything.

Kimberly Adams: Stumbling down the sidewalk after a night of partying. Yeah. I mean, this is a big debate in Europe as well. They’re trying to figure out whether or not facial recognition can be used on like crowds in particular. So if you go to a protest, should the authorities be able to scan the crowd and know everybody who attended here in the United States after the attack on the Capitol in January’s on January 6, the federal law enforcement definitely used facial recognition to track down a lot of the people who attacked the Capitol. And that helped bring a lot of these charges that we’re seeing, resulting in convictions now. But that technology is really good. And it you know, might be used for nefarious means in the future. And so it’s a real ethical debate. I think a lot of us are gonna have to deal with moving forward. And then if you go to a place like China, they just are pretty much universal. Like yeah, we’re gonna watch and know everything you do. So yeah, it’ll be fascinating to see how that plays out in the future. Do you have another one?

Sabri Ben-Achour: No, I mean, that was, yeah, I was just couldn’t make up my mind on. What about you? What do you, what do you got?

Kimberly Adams: So a little follow up on a story that I mentioned yesterday, one of our listeners, Rebecca sent me a note on Twitter. And thank you, Rebecca, that, you know, lots of people are weighing in on the story I shared about SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, and a report and a study out of New Zealand, that there could be an enzyme that is linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, rather than something about the positioning or blankets or something like that. And, you know, she just wanted me to add an extra layer of caution that this is preliminary research. And that it is, you know, an early suggestion that this might this enzyme might be a link and health officials. And pediatricians are telling parents, please don’t stop doing any of the safe sleep measures that you’re doing. This does need more research. And so thank you, Rebecca, for flagging that, I was very excited to see that study. And I do hope that the science leads to some sort of treatment or screening that can reduce the risk for babies, because I just can’t imagine how terrifying that is, and how hard it is for families. The other story that I have is, it’s not a news article. It’s a sort of statement or research from a group called the Campaign Legal Center that does a lot of research about finance, campaign financing, and politics and how money flows through politics and the law around campaigns and things like that. And they are highlighting something called redboxing, which I’d never heard of before. And so you know, how –

Sabri Ben-Achour: Is this like redlining?

Kimberly Adams: No, not at all. So you know, how campaigns official campaigns of candidates are not supposed to talk to the PACs that support them and the super PACs that support them. And it’s like, “oh, we don’t communicate with each other.” And so that’s fine. And so the PACs can spend as much money as they want to supporting a candidate without, you know, regard for campaign finance laws. Because the you know, the campaign’s and the PACs aren’t talking to each other. Right. So what’s happening is a lot of candidates apparently are putting on their campaign websites, language, basically directing these PACs, or anyone else who chooses to look what they want their messaging to be. So for example, I’m going to say, let’s see, I’m gonna read this, “you might encounter a bright red box containing the peculiar word,” peculiarly, peculiarly, peculiarly, I can’t say that word weirdly, “worded headline, voters need to see read and see on the go, fill in the blank, something negative information about the candidates opponent, including the type of harshly critical statements that candidates often avoid making directly. As you scroll down the page, you may find downloadable B roll stock footage of the candidate greeting crowds, or stock images of them smiling, waving or shaking hands.” So basically, it’s specific instructions about the messaging they want. Even specific towns and cities or demographics, where they want the messaging to go, and the materials video that you can use to create ads. And the Federal Election Commission has basically said that because this information is available to everyone, it’s publicly on the internet, it doesn’t count as communication between the candidates and their paths.

Sabri Ben-Achour: So it’s just like, “Well, I mean, if the super PAC you know, the whatever super PAC just happens to go to my website and see these specific instructions for how we would exactly like our promotion to go that’s, well we can’t do anything” with that’s what they’re just they’re just like, “well, we can’t help that.: Yeah, like so instead of doing this like in a room with no windows, you know, in like underneath the Capitol or something. They they just do it wide out in the open and then it’s okay.

Kimberly Adams: Apparently we need better campaign finance laws. And by the way, I apologize to everyone for not checking everybody’s drinks but I was too excited about the Jasper tumbler because I just got it today like a couple of hours ago and so I’m sure that you are all drinking wonderful things on Discord and the video chat. And by the way, Sabri, I have to tell you, my sister is in the chat and informing me and you that you she likes you more than me, and apparently I’ve been thrown under the bus and she prefers you.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh my god. There’s nothing like family. You know, my, my mom will text me when I when I host a morning report sometimes. And she’ll like if if she can tell that I’m tired or that I’m like low energy, she’ll send like a text being like, “you know, you know, Sabri, it’s your responsibility to have a positive attitude and lift people up. And right now I sense that you’re rather grumpy, tired person.” And I was like, okay, thank you.  Is that how your mom talks?  Yeah, yeah, yeah, she has a Queen’s English accent.

Kimberly Adams: Amazing. All right. Well, since we’re already in a better mood talking about how our families troll us. So let’s play a game. All right, so now it is time for Half Full/Half Empty.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Half Full/Half Empty. Hosted by our very own Drew Jostad. Take it away Drew.

Drew Jostad: All right. First topic, are you half full or half empty on the sell off we’ve seen in the stock market this week?

Kimberly Adams: In that, I think it’s probably gonna get worse? Half empty.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, half, half. I’m fully empty on that. I mean, it’s so bad. But I mean, yeah, I don’t have anything positive to say about it, then, like, hopefully it will get better and maybe like a year or two.

Kimberly Adams: I just – do you think it is like legitimately going to be like the start of a bear market recession? Or is it sort of like, just the ups and downs the markets?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Well, I mean, I think honestly, what it is, is that, you know, we’ve had two years where people have saved a lot of money, gotten a lot of money, had a lot of money, and just played around with it, thrown it in wherever they want to throw it, whether that’s crypto or, you know, my brother sends random penny stocks that he thinks my sister should invest in or whatever. People just been throwing money around, and I think like, the party is over, like all that is like, has been sort of shaved from the market. And so, you know, a lot of speculative froth, as someone put it, has been sort of blown off the market. So that’s probably good. It means we’re more based on fundamentals in terms of valuation of companies. But I don’t know I think I really just think a lot is going to be determined by whether, you know, supply chains rearrange, you know, in the next five, six months on the supply side of things starts to be less crazy.

Kimberly Adams: Okay, let’s rapid fire the rest of these because we’re stretching on.

Drew Jostad: Next topic. There are some signs that Facebook’s Metaverse Development Division may be running out of money. Are you half full or half empty?

Kimberly Adams: Half full? Just cause.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, half – the Metaverse, which one is running out of money?

Kimberly Adams: The Metaverse division.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Running out of money. Oh, yeah. No, I’m half empty. I want to I want them to have more money. I want to see what else I can make fun of.

Kimberly Adams: Oh, you want the Facebook-run metaverse.

Sabri Ben-Achour:  I want to see what else they come up with at the Internet Control.

Kimberly Adams:  Ah, okay. Next.

Drew Jostad: Are you have full or half empty on congressional staff and other staffers being allowed to unionize?

Kimberly Adams: Half full.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah. Half full.

Kimberly Adams: Supposed to be the right of everybody.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah.

Kimberly Adams: This has been a very interesting story because they, right around the time these congressional staffers are trying to unionize, they announced that they were going to start paying them more in the House.

Sabri Ben-Achour:  Isn’t it funny how that seems to happen?

Kimberly Adams: Yeah this is weird correlation there. All right, what’s next?

Drew Jostad:  Okay, Apple is discontinuing the last remaining iPod. Are you half full or half empty?

Kimberly Adams: Aw, kind of half empty. We were talking about this on Tech today.

Sabri Ben-Achour: I’m half, I’m I’m half I don’t even know where my cup is. Because I didn’t even know they still made those. Like I didn’t even know that was still around.

Kimberly Adams: Look at my baby one.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh my god. Oh my god. How old is that?

Kimberly Adams: Ummm, on here it says 2013. Yay. All right. No, I mean, they they changed so much about the way that we consume music and so I think it’s, I think it’s cool. Nostalgia. All right next.

Drew Jostad: Okay, Heinz says it is working to develop a paper based version of the ketchup bottle. Are you half full or half empty on more sustainable condiment packaging?

Kimberly Adams: Sabri you look like you have strong feelings.

Sabri Ben-Achour: No, I am half empty. I’m half full on sustainability. I’m half empty on a paper ketchup bottle make it out of like algae plastic, or like some, I guess, take a glass glass can be recycled like paper the – No, no, no, I can’t I can barely deal with paper straws collapsing in my mouth. I don’t want like a pile of paper ketchup Chimera. Like monstrosity in my refrigerator.

Kimberly Adams: I’m not a huge ketchup fans. So I don’t really care. So I’m going to lean on the sustainability and go full. And since Jasper went away, all I had to do is pick up the treat jar and he came back. There you go everyone you can see Jasper. Sorry, Drew. I got distracted. Apologies. Thank you very much. Drew for Half Full/Half Empty.. I’m sorry. I distracted everyone. All right. That is it for us today. We will be back next week. And our Tuesday deep dive is going to be about appropriately cryptocurrency and what the troubles with stable coins tell us about crypto’s future more broadly.

Sabri Ben-Achour: And you can send us your questions, your comments your concerns, in a voice memo or email to makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or leave us a voice message we are at 508-827-6278 that is 508-U-B-SMART.

Kimberly Adams: Cats on the hunt for more treats. Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. Our intern is Tiffany Bui. Today’s episode was engineered by the amazing Drew Jostad and our senior producer is Bridget Bodnar

Sabri Ben-Achour: The team behind our Friday game is Steven Byeon, Mel Rosenberg, Isabel Lyndon and Emily Macune. With the music written by Drew Jostad and the director of On Demand is Donna Tam.

Kimberly Adams: Oh look Jasper sitting like he is on the thing now.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh he is.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, it’s like the same mirror image.

Sabri Ben-Achour: He’s so cute.

Kimberly Adams: Oh boy. Yeah, he’s funny.

Sabri Ben-Achour: I only want ketchup bottles that are produced directly from Monsanto or OPEC.


None of us is as smart as all of us.

No matter how bananapants your day is, “Make Me Smart” is here to help you through it all— 5 days a week.

It’s never just a one-way conversation. Your questions, reactions, and donations are a vital part of the show. And we’re grateful for every single one.

Donate any amount to become a Marketplace Investor and help make us smarter (and make us smile!) every day.

The team

Marissa Cabrera Senior Producer
Bridget Bodnar Senior Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer