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The birth of the negative campaign ad

Most people would agree that Citizens United was a turning point for campaign finance in the United States, paving the way for Super Political Action Committees to inject record amounts of anonymous donations into this year’s election.

Another turning point for the American electoral process was the first use of broadcast media to sway public opinion. Today, it’s hard to imagine an election cycle without the use of negative campaign ads, but back in 1934, it was a novel idea – one that proved deadly to the candidacy of Upton Sinclair in the California race for Governor. Yes, the same Upton Sinclair who famously exposed Chicago’s brutal meat-packing industry in his novel, The Jungle. In 1934, the threat of a socialist like Sinclair gaining the state's highest office lead to an unprecedented media campaign to stop him. KALW’s Art Persyko has more, in this story from our archives.

Click the player above to listen to the story.