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FCC Asked to Review Neil Gorsuch Ads

The Campaign Legal Center has asked the FCC to review ads from the Judicial Crisis Network pushing for the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court justice.

CLC says that JCN incorrectly labeled the ads nonpolitical and that instead they should have been subject to FCC disclosure rules that apply to “a message relating to any political matter of national importance.”

"The JCN ads indisputably meet this standard," said CLC. 

CLC points out that the Communications Act requires the disclosure of specific information when such a standard is met, information the JCN ads were lacking, it said. 

Broadcasters are required to place ads related to political matters of public importance in their public files, and they must include who bought the add and the highest officers of that group. CLC argues that should apply not only to the groups like JCN but the often big money, unidentified funders of those groups. But the FCC has yet to tighten its rules under either Democratic or Republican chairs.

It has joined in various FCC complaints, both against stations they say weren't complying with the rules as they are, as well as asking the FCC to tighten them.

But CLC has a bone to pick with broadcasters also. “Broadcasters have an obligation to ensure voters have relevant information about who is attempting to influence their views," said Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform at CLC, in a statement. "By broadcasters accepting at face value Judicial Crisis Network’s claims that their ads did not pertain to any ‘political matter of national importance,’ the public was deprived of the important information that federal law and regulations require." 

It conceded that some stations had called out JCN on its content and required it to amend its filings, but the majority did not.

Campaign finance reform groups including CLC 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 Citizens United.

That case and disclosure in general came up frequently in Gorsuch's nomination hearings given the millions of dollars of ads bought advocating and opposing his confirmation.

Gorsuch himself has argued that there can be value in anonymous speech, which he said when asked during those hearings about the issue of political ad disclosures.

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.