FCC Opens Docket on Extending Political File Mandate

The FCC has opened a docket (14-127) and is seeking comment on a petition by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and Sunlight Foundation to require cable and satellite operators to make their political files part of a national searchable database, as is the requirement for all TV stations since July 1.

It also wants to know whether to extend the requirement to radio stations. Commenters have until Aug. 28 for initial comments, Sept. 8 for replies.

The FCC limited "initial" implementation to TV stations, and even more initially only the top four TV station in the top 50 markets when it adopted the online filing requirement in August 2012, which was extended last July to all TV stations, which had been part of the plan unless it found a problem. The FCC points out that the National Association of Broadcasters, which opposed the move, found the first wave of implementation "uneventful." The FCC said in 2012 that it had an insufficient record to extend the mandate beyond broadcast TV.

"The Commission explained that there was an insufficient record to extend the requirement beyond broadcast television, and that starting with television licensees would 'ease the initial implementation of the online public file,'" the FCC's Media Bureau said in seeking the comments and setting the comment dates.  

Cable operators, satellite operators and radio stations are all still required to keep their political files, which include election ad orders and prices, locally for public inspection.

The campaign reform groups have been pushing for enhanced disclosure, and noted in their petition the rise in cable political advertising—up double digits over the last four mid-year election cycles.

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.

While the Campaign Legal Center applauded the FCC for launching a rulemaking to expand the reporting requirement, an FCC spokesman confirmed that it had not launched a rulemaking, but had only put the petition out for comment, although that could be the first step toward an eventual notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

An FCC source on background suggested the FCC would indeed be taklng the next step and open an NPRM after it had vetted those comments.

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.