WRAL Documentary: Who are you?

Posted January 16, 2011 8:55 p.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2011 1:05 p.m. EST

It was the infamous question uttered by Congressman Bob Etheridge in an embarrassing viral video that helped cost him his job. Now it is the same question the Congressman and others are asking about donors to a mysterious Washington-based organization that helped defeat him.

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that may keep us from ever knowing the answer.

The video was the turning point in Etheridge’s race against Republican challenger Renee Ellmers in the 2010 election. Until then few people had given Ellmers a chance. She had no political experience, no name recognition and no help from her party.

Then Etheridge lost his cool in a politically orchestrated video ambush. When the video went viral, Etheridge suddenly looked vulnerable and Ellmers became more visible. The race got the national media attention it had lacked and donations to Ellmers’ campaign picked up.

An endorsement from Sarah Palin and a controversial ad about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York helped attract even more attention and financial support. Some of that support came from an organization called Americans for Job Security, which spent $360,000, most of it on TV ads attacking Etheridge late in the race.

On Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can anonymously donate unlimited amounts of money to third-party groups like AJS to support or oppose candidates. The majority said that such donations amount to free speech.

Many others say the ruling undermines the electoral process and our democracy by giving special interest groups more power to influence elections than voters.

The WRAL Documentary "Who are you?" examines the Etheridge-Ellmers race, how the viral video helped fuel support for Ellmers and how support from anonymous donors funneled through Americans for Job Security helped her win.

You’ll hear from the candidates themselves, as well as experts in campaign finance reform, about the race, how it illustrates the impact of the controversial Supreme Court ruling and what it all means for future elections in North Carolina.

“Who are you?” is hosted by WRAL News anchor David Crabtree. It airs Jan. 20 at 7 p.m.