Skip to main content

In April, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved reforms to modernize the disclosure requirements for broadcasters operating on the public airwaves. The rule will expose the influence of money in politics by making information about who is financing political advertising available online. However, the transparency rule is under attack: broadcasters quickly filed suit against the FCC, while House Republicans attached a policy provision to a spending bill that would block the rule from taking effect.

Opening the Files

To enable citizens to oversee the use of the public airwaves, broadcasters must disclose certain information about their programming and operations. Since 1965, broadcasters have maintained public inspection files with information on each station's license and ownership, compliance with FCC rules, programming, and political advertising.

However, the public files have only been available on paper in each station's studio, limiting access. To improve public access, the FCC passed a new rule on April 27 requiring TV stations to post their data to an online public database.

The information in the files on political advertising will allow the public to see who is purchasing political ads and how much they are paying for them. Ads by super PACs and other third-party organizations attempting to influence elections have ballooned in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010.

That enormous influx of money in politics has made many Americans concerned about the integrity of the election process.  Making ad spending more transparent would enable better analysis of its influence and options for reform, a first step in restoring the public’s trust.

Broadcasters adamantly opposed the rule, arguing that wider access to their ad rates could weaken their negotiating power with advertisers. (Campaigns typically pay the lowest rates for ad buys, but third-party organizations like super PACs can be charged commercial rates.) But the FCC is bound to protect the public interest, not broadcasters' profits.

Legislative Override Attempted

On June 6, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government marked up its funding bill for fiscal year (FY) 2013, which includes funding for the FCC. The subcommittee draft, introduced by Chair Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), included a policy "rider" that would block the agency from applying the disclosure rule to information on political ads. Other information in the station public files would be unaffected and would go online as planned in the rule.

Republicans explained the move by criticizing the FCC rule as burdensome and intrusive – despite the facts that the files are already public and that online posting is expected to have minimal burden on broadcasters.

Appropriations committee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) criticized the rider as kowtowing to the moneyed interests increasingly intervening in elections. "It looks like you're trying to cover up the fact that all these fat cats are coming in and putting all this money into these elections and they don’t want their names to be disclosed," said Dicks.

Subcommittee ranking member José Serrano (D-NY) sponsored an amendment to remove the rider, which was defeated on a party-line vote. Serrano vowed to continue efforts to strike the language, according to ProPublica.

The Senate marked up its version of the bill in subcommittee on June 12. The subcommittee has not yet released draft text of the bill.

Please take action and tell Congress to remove the rider so that we can see who is buying political ads on our airwaves.

Court Challenge

Broadcasters are also challenging the rule in court. On May 21, less than a month after the FCC finalized the new rule, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed suit to block it. The industry association argued that the rule is "arbitrary, capricious," and violates the First Amendment. The broadcasters did not explain their claims in their petition, but they have previously complained that the rule would make TV stations the only medium required to disclose their ad rates. The broadcasters also claim that the FCC lacks authority to bring the files online because Congress did not require the information to be posted on the Internet.

However, the FCC defended the rule, calling it a "common-sense update." Free Press, a nonprofit group that supports media reform, called the lawsuit "nothing more than an attempt by the NAB to stall an important and overdue transparency initiative" and said the FCC "is on firm legal ground."

Let's Move Forward

The FCC's rule should be the first step in a series of reforms to modernize its disclosure rules for the 21st century and our digital communications structure. But recalcitrant special interests and their defenders in Congress threaten to derail the process and leave the public with disclosure systems designed for an earlier generation of communications technology.

The American people deserve easy access to public information. Today, information on political ad spending is more critical than ever, as the influx of money in politics threatens to undermine honest democratic discourse.

Please tell Congress: We have a right to know who’s buying political ads on the public’s airwaves.

Originally posted at OMB Watch

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site