Gore Expresses Hope for Internet's Rise, Fall of Campaign Costs, Dependence on TV

Former Vice President Al Gore said the rapid expansion of information flow on the Internet could ultimately change the future of campaign finance.

But the 30-second TV ad isn't going away anytime soon, Gore said at a media conference at Middle Tennessee State University on Tuesday evening.

"The Internet is a great source of hope, and I believe its importance is growing every day," Gore said. "But I think it's important to have a sense of perspective on where we are at the present time. Television is still completely dominant."

Gore said he made taxpayer-supported financing of all federal elections a platform in both his 1988 and 2000 presidential campaigns. Few -- including opposition researchers for other campaigns -- took note, he said.

"They always assumed that it was so implausible that there was no point in attacking me about it," he said.

That way of thinking has not changed much in the intervening years, he said. And any laws to reduce campaign spending are likely to cause independent expenditure groups to make a commensurate increase in spending, he said.

"It's like the proverbial pillow that puffs up somewhere else when you punch it in," Gore said.

Gore, whose documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth" about global warming won an Academy Award on Sunday, has said repeatedly he has no plans to join the field of 2008 Democratic presidential aspirants.

But Gore's unwillingness to rule out a run completely has given some activists hope that he might change his mind. Gore lost his home state in the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush.

The hunger for ever-increasing campaign funds can be traced to the cost of political TV ads, Gore said. Congressional candidates in competitive races spent an average of three-quarters of their campaign funds on TV ads in the last election, he said.

Campaigns choose to spend so much on TV ads and not on the Internet "because that's what works," Gore said.

"As long as 30-sencond TV ads need to be purchased, and as long as they are the dominant venue for campaign-relevant dialogues, then there's going to be a demand for money," he said.

For the current model of campaign financing to change, the demand for TV ads has to wane, Gore said.

"What has to change is the media ecosystem and the information ecosystem, so that an essential free-flow of ideas judged more than rather than less on a meritocracy of ideas will have a balancing effect," he said.

Gore noted that the average American watches 4 hours and 28 minutes of television a day.

"Of the amount that's left after working and sleeping, more than two-thirds of it is spent usually motionless and silent in front of the television set."

Gore said he is looking forward to the days when the "system (is) less vulnerable to this heavy-handed and expensive manipulation of the public's impressions via these 30-second TV ads."