FCC Must Do More to Require Broadcasters to Disclose their Political Advertisers

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  • Dale Eisman

Common Cause and a coalition of other public interest organizations are calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to strengthen a fledgling program requiring broadcasters to post information online about their political advertisers.

In comments filed this week with the FCC, the groups said the online postings, which include the names of political advertisers and the amount of money each has spent on ads, have helped inform voters and stimulated public debate. They urged the FCC to require that the information be posted in a machine-readable format, so that researchers can more easily aggregate and analyze and publicize it.

The FCC last year ordered the top four broadcasters in the nation’s 50 largest media markets to place their media files online. The stations previously were required to provide the files, including information about political advertisers, in printed form to reporters and citizens requesting then in person at station offices.

The commission has indicated stations in all markets will have to post the information online in time for the 2014 election cycle.

“During the 2012 campaign season, online political file reporting helped journalists cover political campaigns. It also helped advocates like Common Cause expose the pervasive problem of money in politics,” said Todd O’Boyle, program director for Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.

“But the files give voters only a hint of who is behind the big money being spent on political advertising,” O’Boyle said. “We can now learn how much money tax-exempt groups like Crossroads GPS have spent to advertise in a particular market but we’re still in the dark about the people, businesses or groups that provided the money and what they might want in return.

“Common Cause continues to believe that the FCC should exert its authority under existing law (Section 317 of the Telecommunication Act) to make true political ad transparency a reality,” he added.

Common Cause is part of the Public Interest Airwaves Coalition, which filed the comments along with the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Effective Government.

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