CLC Pushes for Enhanced Disclosure

The Campaign Legal Center says the FCC is failing to do its job, and in the process failing the American people, by not launching a rulemaking to tighten disclosure requirements for TV and radio political ads.

In the wake of the Citizens United decision allowing corporations and unions to fund campaign electioneering ads (for or against a candidate) the center has been pushing the FCC to require broadcasters to identify the actual funders of SuperPACs, rather than PAC officials, when they air the ads.

The rules as the FCC has interpreted them do not require such enhanced disclosures. CLC has filed complaints over allegedly insufficient disclosures, but the FCC's Media Bureau has not seen it CLC's way.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, CLC policy director Meredith McGehee says TV viewers are ill-served and misinformed by political ads, and lays the blame "squarely" on the FCC.

"First, the FCC has refused to move forward on updating the regulations implementing the sponsorship identification requirements in Section 3171 of the Communications Act, which spells out the on-air disclosure requirements for sponsorship identification. Second, the Commission has allowed its Media Bureau’s misinterpretation of existing sponsorship identification requirements to stand. As a result, television viewers across the country are not accurately informed of the true identities of those sponsoring political advertisements."

McGehee pointed out Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in citizens United, when he said that "The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way." It is the disclosure part of that equation that is missing, says CLC, and the FCC is responsible both for inaction and the wrong actions.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has been pushed by some Capitol Hill Democrats who have failed to undo Citizens United legislatively to open a rulemaking to update the regs and boost the disclosures, but he has consistently said that is not on his to-do list.

The chairman has more than a passing interest in the issue, however. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), before he was a presidential candidate, put a hold on Wheeler's nomination over the prospect that he might accede to Democrat demands to get at citizen's United via enhanced disclosures, then lifted it after he said he was assured that would not be the case.

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.