Common Cause Blasts FCC for Failing to Enforce Its Own Rules

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  • Todd O'Boyle
Reform Group Calls on Commission to Revisit Staff Decision

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is shirking its responsibility to enforce the longstanding federal law requiring broadcasters to disclose the “true identity” of the sponsors of political advertising, Common Cause said today.  

The nonpartisan government reform organization urged the FCC to revisit a recent staff-level decision rejecting a proposal that it enforce the statute, Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Georgetown University Institute for Public Representation is representing Common Cause, Sunlight Foundation, and the Campaign Legal Center in the filing. 

Since its ratification in 1934, Section 317 has empowered the FCC  to write rules governing “sponsorship identification” so that voters may know the “true identity” of political ad sponsors. The Commission has not updated its rules in decades, so they are inadequate in the post-Citizens United and McCutcheon environment of unlimited anonymous political advertising. 

“It’s one thing that congressional gridlock precludes passage of laws to right the many wrongs our special interest political culture faces,” said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.. “It’s quite another, and infinitely worse, to ignore laws already on the books that enable us to tackle these problems. What a crying shame!  Where is the full Commission on this?”