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Political Ad Trackers File FCC Complaint Against Stations

The Sunlight Foundation, joined by the Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause, has filed complaints at the FCC against two TV stations it said failed to properly identify the sponsors of political ads.

Sunlight has been tracking the FCC's database, where stations have to post their political files—since July 1, that applies to all stations, not just ones in the top markets.

The stations targeted are Allbritton's WJLA Washington, which Sinclair is in the process of purchasing, and KGW Portland. The groups emphasized that the complaint was against Allbritton, not Sinclair.

The complaint against WJLA alleges it aired two ads that failed to identify that they were sponsored by a former hedge fund manager, instead identifying the sponsor as super PAC NextGen Climate Action Committee. They say the ad was funded solely by that person.

They also alleged that KGW aired multiple political ads identified as sponsored by American Principles Fund, when that group received "nearly all its funding" from another hedge fund manager.

The groups say the stations failed to meet their obligation to "exercise reasonable diligence" to identify the actual "person" funding the ad, rather than simply naming the entity that paid the bill.

"The FCC has sat on petitions asking it to enforce the law on political ad sponsorship far too long,” said former FCC chairman Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause. “People have a right to know who specifically is trying to sway their votes. The FCC can't be allowed to keep running away from its statutory obligations. It has the responsibility to follow through on these new complaints now."

Spokespeople for Allbritton and KGW parent Sander Media were not available for comment at press time.

Sunlight filed complaints at the FCC back in May against 11 stations for noncompliance with various reporting requirements related to their online political files.