Campaign Finance Reformers File Complaints Against 18 Stations

Campaign finance reform groups continue to press the FCC to take action on political ad disclosures.

The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation have filed complaints against 18 TV stations in seven markets, claiming they incorrectly identified Independence PAC USA as the sponsor of political ads rather than the true sponsor, and the sole funder, billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

The groups say that they warned the stations that they were in violation of FCC regs by not identifying Bloomberg and, when none changed their IDs, filed the complaint.

Under FCC rules, broadcasters are required to identify the "true identity" of the sponsor, but just how that is defined is a point of contention.

A year ago, the FCC's Media Bureau dismissed the same groups' complaints against TV stations WJLA-TV Washington and KGW-TV Portland. Robert Baker, assistant chief of the Media Bureau's policy division, said at the time that they had not made a "sufficient showing that the stations had credible evidence casting into doubt that the identified sponsors of the advertisement were the true sponsors."

But he also said "our approach might have been different if the complainants had approached the stations directly to furnish them with evidence calling into question that the identified sponsors were the true sponsors."

That appears to have guided the approach taken to the latest round of complaints.

The FCC has been under pressure from the groups and some in Congress to clarify that it is the funders of the ads that need to be identified, but FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has yet to open an inquiry or rulemaking into such a clarification.

Campaign finance reform groups have sought enhanced disclosure of political ad files as one way to help them counter the flood of so-called "dark" money expenditures by third-party groups that followed the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case lifting limits on federal election spending by corporations and unions, spending that can be made through such groups

The stations cited are all affiliates of the Big Four networks.

John Eggerton

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.