Finance Reformers Target WLS-TV

The Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint at the FCC against ABC-owned WLS-TV Chicago, saying it "ignored warnings" about violations of ad disclosure rules.

It joined with Common Cause and Sunlight Foundation to take aim at yet another station over its political files.

The complaint charges that the station refused to disclose the "true identity" of the sponsor of political ads run by Independence USA PAC even after the groups say they identified that funder as former New York mayor and current billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

"This is a knowing and willful violation of the law," said Campaign Legal Center policy director Meredith McGehee, "but more importantly failure to identify the true sponsor of the ad does a grave disservice to WLS viewers. They were left completely in the dark as to the fact that Michael Bloomberg, hiding behind a deceptively named organization, was spending large sums of money to influence their votes and the outcome of the election... If WLS is not willing to reveal the man behind the curtain, then we certainly hope the FCC will enforce long standing statutes and compel the station to do so in future."

ABC had no comment.

The trio of finance reform groups appear to be taking the advice of the FCC's Media Bureau, which denied a similar complaint against WJLA Washington and KGW Portland, Ore.

In dismissing the complaint against WJLA without prejudice (meaning it could be refilled), the FCC said the groups had not shown that WJLA knew the "true" sponsor of the ads, but suggested the decision might have been different if they had. "Our approach might have been different if the complainants had approached the stations directly to furnish them with evidence calling into question that the identified sponsors were the true sponsors," the suggestion being that if the broadcasters had not taken action after being informed of inadequate disclosures, the bureau might have looked at the complaint differently.

Now it will have a chance to. The groups also refiled the complaint against WJLA

The groups have been tracking the online broadcaster filings in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United and subsequent court decisions that allowed more money from outside groups into the political system without ways to specifically track the underlying funders.

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.