Sunlight: FCC 'Stumbling' as Campaign Ad Enforcer
Updated: FCC source says NAB was informed political ad reporting form was not compliant
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/6/2013 10:32:57 AM
The Sunlight Foundation says broadcasters are ignoring campaign finance laws that require specific disclosures on political ad reporting forms, and using a form that allows for fudging that disclosure.
The foundation's Reporting Group has been mining the FCC's online database of top 50 market affiliate TV station public files, which the commission has required since August to be filed in a public FCC-administered database.
According to a story on the foundation's website, the FCC has been "stumbling" as a campaign law enforcer, which it says is particularly problematic in the wake of the Citizens United decision.
An FCC spokesman countered that the law clearly states that the names of officers and directors of such groups must be identified in ads and that it will review any complaint that is lodged, and a source says the commission informed the National Association of Broadcasters that the form is not compliant.
"NAB regularly updates the political broadcasting form -- in fact, we have done it 17 times -- and will clarify any ambiguity," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.
Sunlight says that while the 2002 McCain-Feingold finance reform law requires TV stations to collect the names of board members or officers of the independent groups running ads for federal candidates or issues of public importance, the NAB-supplied reporting form suggest using the name of an "authorized agent" -- an advertiser placing the spot, for instance -- rather than the officers of the group itself.
Currently only the top four affiliates in the top 50 markets have to post their political files to the FCC website. But after a review of that process this summer, the FCC plans to extend the requirement to other stations.
The Sunlight Story comes as campaign finance reformers, including in Congress, are pushing the FCC to better enforce its disclosure requirements post-Citizens United and after the failure of legislative efforts to toughen those TV station ad online disclosures.
But those efforts are targeted at extending beyond identifying the officers of the PACs to getting the FCC to require disclosure of the companies and individuals funding those groups.
An FCC spokesman said the FCC is very much on the job. "The Commission is firmly committed to enforcement of all of its rules, including those relating to political programming generally and to enforcement of Section 504 of BCRA, specifically," an FCC spokesman said. "The Commission routinely relies on complaints and our investigation and resolution of those complaints as a means of ensuring compliance with many of our rules. We primarily rely on this approach in enforcing the political programming rules and statutory provisions. The online public file, which includes the political file, facilitates this process by making information about stations' activities widely and easily accessible to the public they serve, as well as to candidates and others directly affected by the political programming rules. Any complaint filed with the Commission concerning compliance with these rules will be promptly considered."
An FCC source speaking on background added that the FCC does not review the forms to certify that they comply with the rules, pointing out that the law makes it explicit that officers and board members of the groups buying the ads must be disclosed. Disclosing the names a of a media buyer or agent does not fulfill statute, they said, and when that was brought to the commission's attention, the source did not say by whom, NAB was informed that the form was not compliant.
No related content found.
No Top Articles