The FCC is obligated under existing law to require political
ads on broadcasting and cable TV to identify their sponsors.
That is according to legislators citing a new Government
Accountability Office report.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Energy and Commerce
Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (they requested the report) and
Communications Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo, all California Democrats
said the report clarifies FCC authority, and went beyond that to say it was
obligated to use that authority.
According to the legislators, the report clarifies that the
FCC has the power "to prevent advertisers from misleading consumers and
voters" by requiring ads to identify the "true" sponsors.
The report does not recommend that change, but does say the
FCC should review its sponsorship ID policy in general.
"GAO notes that the FCC last year significantly improved the transparency of campaign spending by requiring television stations to make detailed information regarding political advertising available online," said an FCC spokesoman. "The report does not recommend that we change our rules relating to the sponsors of ads."
Currently political TV ads are often identified by the group
making the buy -- Americans for Americans -- rather than individual funders of
those groups. The legislators suggest that the FCC on its own authority can
adjust the rules to require disclosures of those funding sources.
"It's been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant --
and this report makes clear that the FCC has the power, the authority, and the
responsibility to shine a bright light on the organizations and campaigns
behind our political advertisements," Pelosi said. "The FCC must simply update
its rules to reflect the law, ensuring disclosure in our elections,
transparency in our campaigns, and fairness for all voters."
That congressional push comes a day after Common
Cause made that FCC political ad identification enforcement one
of its priorities for a new media reform initiative.
"This report makes clear that the FCC can bring voters the disclosure they want and a healthy democracy requires," said Todd O'Boyle, program director for Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.