Campaign Finance Groups: Don't Limit Political File Complaints

Campaign finance reform groups have told the FCC it should not require complaints about political ad broadcasts to be filed by local residents.

They also asked the FCC not to "artificially limit the identity of public file complaints," as well as to "ensure that the public files are as complete as possible, where all stations and operators use the same system, and where stations are exempt only when they truly cannot handle the more efficient online."

The National Association of Broadcasters last month asked the FCC to at least look into limiting its public file complaint process to "actual viewers and listeners" rather than "persons or entities unrelated to local communities of license."

That came in NAB's comments on the FCC's proposal to expand its requirement that TV stations make their public files — political ads, kids programming, etc. —  cover cable and satellite TV, as well as broadcast and satellite radio.

In response to the NAB proposal, some of the entities that have complained—Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, and Sunlight Foundation—Wednesday told the FCC that if a broadcaster "is not putting the required information in its online public file, it should not matter who brings that malfeasance to the FCC's attention."

The groups also argued that the purpose of the file has changed, from a locally-residing file to a searchable online file with collateral benefits for analyzing expenditures and, as the FCC itself said in creating the online file, "enabl[ing] candidates, as well as the public, journalists, educators, and the research community, to identify and investigate those sponsoring political advertisements." Those are benefits that were not anticipated in the original public file rules.

Besides, they say, people outside a station's market can be harmed by public file violations.

"The FCC should not take a step backward by allowing only local citizens to file complaints," they said.

They also took issue with the American Cable Association suggesting that the FCC allow links to third-party locations where the information could be found, rather than requiring it to be uploaded to the FCC-administered database.

The groups oppose "any proposal that does not require all operators to use and upload files to the same system."

They also urge the FCC to act quickly so that the expanded online filing requirements are in place before the next election.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.