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Editorial: The Deal on Wheeler

We’re not sure what the FCC’s authority is when it comes to requiring political ad disclosures, but we know FCC nominee Tom Wheeler is not going to prejudge that issue in the context of questions from Republican Senators, nor should he have to.

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) renewed his threat to delay—perhaps derail—Wheeler’s nomination as chairman over the issue of the DISCLOSE Act, the legislation meant to provide for more transparency in political ad funding in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Some Democrats have been pushing the FCC to do what Congress was unable to do— require more specific disclosures of the money behind political ads.

During his hearing, Wheeler said he needs to learn more about it, but does not need any schooling about how passionately both sides of the aisle feel about the issue. He also pointed to the current open proceeding, which would also limit his ability to weigh in. “I do not miss the expression on both sides as to the strong feelings, and I know this is an issue of tension,” Wheeler said, in a mixture of statement and understatement.

We’re not sure about the limits of the FCC’s disclosure authority, but that decision, if it comes, would need to be made by a majority of commissioners after an open proceeding and public comment. That is the time and place for Congress to press its point to Wheeler and the other FCC commissioners. It was a fair question to raise at the nomination hearing, but the issue should not stand in the way of Wheeler’s confirmation.