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FCC Asked to Add Cable, Satellite to Political Ad Database

In a nod to the growing importance of cable ad buys in the political mix, campaign watchdogs the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation want the FCC to start applying its political file requirements to cable and satellite.

As of July 1, all TV stations have to upload copies of their political advertising contracts to a searchable FCC database that Sunlight and others have used to track political spending, and try to hold broadcasters' feet to the fire when it comes to identifying the funders of those ads per FCC rules.

Cable and satellite must also keep the records, but must only make them available locally, the groups point out, and say that should change.

In a petition for rulemaking filed with the FCC, the groups note that cable political ad spending has increased in each election cycle since 2008 and could be as much as a fourth of all political TV spending in 2014.

It also pointed out that nine out of 10 households were pay.

"The petition filed today asks the FCC to bring cable and satellite providers under the same online public disclosure requirements now applicable to broadcast television stations," said the groups. "This is particularly important because political campaigns, super PACs, and other outside groups are increasingly advertising on cable and satellite."

The groups see enhanced disclosure of political ads as one way to help 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.

Broadcasters balked at the requirement, but have also argued that if they must file sensitive price information to a searchable online database, their cable and satellite competition should have to as well.

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.