The Federal Communications Commission admonished several broadcast stations for failing to protect voters’ right to know who is behind political ads in the 2016 Election and prior elections.
The action earlier this month came in response to complaints filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Sunlight Foundation and Benton Foundation, represented by Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown University Law Center. The agency issued two separate orders (responding to 2014 complaint and 2016 complaint). In the orders, the FCC construed the public file rules expansively, warning broadcast stations that they must comply with FCC requirements going forward.
“This is a victory for transparency and accountability,” said Meredith McGehee, strategic adviser for CLC. “The FCC, through these orders, indicates that it takes the public file requirement of the Communications Act seriously. It is the FCC’s responsibility to ensure stations disclose information about who pays for advertisements. These rules play a critical role in ensuring voters have the information they need and deserve. I hope stations will heed this warning and stop freely ignoring existing regulations with impunity.”
The FCC stopped short of fining the stations at this time. Following the FCC’s order, two Republican commissioners indicated that while they agree with the substantive analysis of the orders, they would like to continue to take up the issue in the Trump Administration.
“Transparency is what the law requires and democracy demands,” said Michael Copps, former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser. “Good on the Commission for taking this important step to disclosing secret money. The next and most important step is accountable ads with in-ad, on-air disclosure of secret money funders.”
CLC issued a report in 2016 highlighting how frequently broadcast stations neglect to collect and report political ad sponsors and called for aggressive FCC enforcement of the regulations.