H.R. 1 Boosts TV Campaign Ad Disclosures

Co-opting the "clean up Washington" mantra of the current Republican President and the "by the people, for the people" language of a former Republican President, House Democrats Friday (Jan. 4) officially unveiled their first bill of the new session, the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which would, among many other things, boost campaign ad disclosures on TV and extend them to paid online ads.

Newly re-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the point of the bill was to clean up corruption and restore integrity in Washington, saying that was the takeaway mandate from the Democrats' midterm victories.

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That includes preventing the voice of corporations and moneyed interests to drown out the voice of the people and set the political agenda, the Democrats said in a press conference officially unveiling the bill and the "For the People" agenda championed by Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland. Sarbanes said the people felt "locked out" of the process and needed to be let back in.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) pointed out that HR 1 expands on his Stand By Your Ad provisions in his bill from the last Congress. It would require corporations and others to disclose top donors in TV ads, and extend that to online paid ads and robocalls. It would also extend the Stand by Your Ad disclosures to the heads of the heads of the corporations, unions or PACs purchasing ads. 

He said the new bill would "transform" the disclosure process so that "real people" could understand it, and "shine a light on dark money."

Currently, TV ads have to identify the officers of the PACs or corporations behind campaign ads, but not, in the case of PACs, the people actually funding the ads.

The Supreme Court, in the Citizens United decision striking down a ban on corporate and PAC funding of electioneering communications, said that disclosure would be a less restrictive way to govern political speech than the ban, which it concluded was an unconstitutional abridgement of speech.

Related: FEC Proposes New 'Net Political Ad Disclosure Rules

The bill would incorporate Honest Ads Act (H.R. 4077) provisions that requires digital platforms to maintain a public database of political ads purchase requests of more than $500 and prevents foreign nationals from purchasing such ads directly or indirectly, though the latter could be challenging.

H.R. 1 will likely pass the House, but the Republican-backed Senate is another matter, as would be getting the President to sign it. The bill would also require Presidents to release their tax returns, something the current President has been fighting.

The Communications Workers of America was all for the Dems version of draining the swamp.

“By making it harder for working people to vote, stacking the courts with activist judges who have allowed our elections to be flooded with massive amounts of unreported corporate money, and weakening ethics rules, [corporate CEOs and the wealthiest 1%] have advanced an agenda that has devastated communities across America," the union said. "The For the People Act is a bold step toward bringing balance to our democracy.”

"From restoring the Voting Rights Act to supporting the end of Citizens United’s flood of corporate money that drown our elections, HR1 is chock full of things that will make our democracy stronger—which is why Congressional Republicans are so hellbent against it!," said MoveOn.

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.