Media Access Project has asked the FCC to require on-air
identification of the people who are paying for political commercials or issue
The public interest law firm, echoing calls by FCC
Commissioners Michael Copps, said the FCC needed to use the authority it
already has over sponsorship identification to update current rules.
Under MAP's proposed new
rule, anyone providing 25% or more of the funds for a political TV message must
be identified on-air, and a list of everyone providing at least 10% of the
funds would have to be available in a TV station's public file.
In a speech to communications lawyers in Washington earlier
this year, Copps talked about his calls, both internally and publicly for the commission
to launch a rulemaking on disclosures in political ads.
"In the last election cycle close to $3 billion was
funneled into political advertising," he pointed out. "We the people
have a right to know who is bank-rolling these ads beyond some wholly unidentifiable
group set up to mask the special interest it really represents. If
"Citizens for Spacious Skies and Amber Waves of Grain" is really underwritten
by a chemical company that doesn't want to clean up a toxic dump, I think
viewers and voters would probably want to know that. Both sides of the
political spectrum are guilty of this undemocratic sin of omission. Anonymous
ads sidetrack our civic discourse. Better to put a face on them and let the
The calls are in part a response to the Citizen's United
decision by the Supreme Court, which allowed companies and unions to directly
fund campaign ads. Democrats in Congress tried to toughen disclosure laws in
response, but the bills did not pass.
"In the wake of recent judicial decisions involving
campaign finance laws, there has been a new wave in spending for political and
issue advertisements by organizations which are not required to disclose the
identities of their donors," MAP said.
"The FCC has repeatedly said that members of the public are
entitled to know by whom they are being persuaded, and it has stressed that
this is especially important in the case of political messages," said MAP's
Andrew Schwartzman. "This petition simply seeks to update the FCC's rules
to fulfill its Congressional mandate."