Groups Urge FCC to Force Disclosure of Political Ad Donors

With the presidential election just a year away and critical primaries and caucuses beginning in a few weeks, a coalition of legal and civic advocacy groups called on the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to require broadcasters to disclose the “true sponsors” of political advertising.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, the Sunlight Foundation and the Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law School pressed the commission to pass and implement new rules “requiring (broadcast) licensees to fully and fairly inform viewers and listeners about the true sponsorship of political advertisements.”

“Voters across the land are under assault from shadowy secret money groups. The FCC has the authority it needs right now to shine a light on all those anonymous broadcast and cable ads. Republican and Democratic voters alike would welcome FCC action now” said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.

A longstanding provision of the federal Communications Act requires on-air identification of the “true sponsors” of political ads. The letter cites complaints filed more than a year ago against stations in Chicago and Denver concerning ads purportedly paid for by “Independence USA PAC. In fact, the entire cost of the ads was borne by businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the groups allege.

“The Commission has taken no action on these complaints.  By far, our greatest concern is the issue of on-air sponsor identification, and we will not consider any response to be satisfactory if it does not address that issue,” the groups wrote.

The groups also urged the FCC to act on a series of complaints against broadcasters the groups say have not complied with a requirement that they maintain an open-to-the-public file of information online about political ad purchases. When those complaints were filed in May 2014, Wheeler said he expected they would be resolved quickly, the letter notes.