Seen those "They Spend, You Pay!" billboards? The ones in which Barack Obama looks kinda drunk, John Hickenlooper appears homicidal, and Betsy Markey, Ed Perlmutter, John Salazar and Michael Bennet seem amused by your pain? According to Kelly Maher of WhoSaidYouSaid, the website behind the campaign, a hundred boards are now up in Denver, Fort Collins and Grand Junction, creating "a fascinating blend of old and new media."
Maher, a proud conservative with a keen interest in "economic government regulatory issues" like spending, notes that "billboards are seen as an older medium. But when people see our website on the billboards, they can go there and send their elected officials a 'stop payment' notice. And we're also doing a 'They Spend, You Pay!' scavenger hunt, where people driving around can whip out their Blackberries, take a picture of a billboard, tag themselves on it and put it in our scavenger hunt -- and whoever sees the most billboards wins, and gets to go on the radio with me."
Paying for a hundred billboards ain't cheap; Maher says the campaign as a whole "will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars." So who's forking over all that cheddar?
"We're a 501(c)(4), so we're not required to disclose our donors," Maher says. "We're not an express advocacy group, but an education and awareness group. But I can tell you that they're Colorado dollars -- a group of conservative donors who are interested in what we've been able to accomplish thus far."
WhoSaidYouSaid launched in December 2009, with Maher and partner Mary Smith creating what the former calls "a video-based blog format." Why? "There's a generation of young voters coming forward who grew up, as I did, watching Sesame Street. They're really used to processing information by video, and generally in under a minute."
From the outset, humor was a key element of the presentation. Take this clip of Diana DeGette morphing into John Hickenlooper in a way that strangely recalls Ellen DeGeneres:
Over time, however -- and especially since the July relaunch and redesign of the site -- the content has gotten more serious and straightforward.
When asked about this evolution, Maher initially pretends to take offense: "I hope I'm still funny," she offers with a laugh before adding, "Of course, that assumes I was funny in the first place..."
More to the point, she says, "By virtue of the fact that we're in October of an even-numbered year, the tone everywhere is changing. It's becoming a higher-pitched tone. But I still try to put that personal element into my writing as best I can, recognizing that we are definitely in a time when people are taking things very seriously."
Hence, the addition of the Independence Institute's Dave Kopel -- not exactly known as the Zach Galifianakis of Colorado pundits, despite his on-and-off beard -- as a regular contributor, as well as the prevalence of clips in which Democratic politicos say things that stick in conservatives' craw.
Still, Maher says "I hate it when people call us a 'gotcha' site. We're not looking for a 'gotcha.' What we're really looking for is what I call those 'revelatory moments' -- those moments when politicians and policy makers are really telling what they think. I've worked in politics for a little more than ten years, and over time, you realize that they're trained how to talk for 45 minutes to an hour without really saying anything, which is amazing to me. So we're looking for those moments when we hear real policy points -- and we're careful to take an extra fifteen or twenty seconds, or more, on something we think is valuable."
In other words, Maher doesn't want WhoSaidYouSaid to get stuck in a Shirley Sherrod situation. Sherrod, you'll recall, was the Department of Agriculture staffer who was fired after controversial blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a clip that suggested she was biased against white people. Shortly thereafter, however, the full video surfaced, proving that the segment had been taken out of context in a way that mangled Sherrod's point, prompting public apologies from Obama officials for pulling the trigger too quickly.
Not that Maher eschews any connection to Breitbart. She was thrilled when Breitbart TV posted a video about the billboard campaign. "We got 4,000 views from that in two days," she says. She adds that since the billboards went up, overall traffic on WhoSaidYouSaid has seen "a definite increase, which we're excited about."
See? Old media isn't dead after all. Page down to see the billboard video that received the Breitbart stamp of approval: