President, FCC Pushed on Political Ad Disclosure

Campaign reform group Rootstrikers is pushing the President to call on the FCC to "unmask secret political donors."

That is one element of an online petition that also seeks an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

Various groups and some in Congress have been pushing the FCC to require more detailed on-air disclosures of PAC ads running on TV stations.

Those stations are required to identify the sponsors of the ads, but campaign finance reformers say the FCC should interpret that to mean the actual funders, rather than the "pad for Americans for America" type of disclosure that they argue hides, rather than identifies, the "dark" money behind political ads.

One of the congressional backers of more specific TV ad disclosures is Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).

He attempted to amend the FCC Process Reform Act, which passed the House this week, to direct the FCC to use its "existing authority" to require the on-air sponsorship identifications on TV and radio political ads of PACs and nonprofits to better identify the actual funders of those ads.

That amendment, the Keep Our Campaigns Honest, or KOCH, Act (a jab at the Republican Koch brother donors) was defeated in committee, but he raised the issue with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the House Communications FCC oversight hearing Tuesday (Nov. 17).

While he did not pin Wheeler down on where he stood about enhanced political ad disclosure, he did say the vast majority of the ads for the two gubernatorial candidates in the recent election were funded from outside groups. He said such enhanced disclosure were a high priority for Americans who want to know who they are being influenced by.

He noted that former broadcaster and Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) had concerns about trying to fit a lot of names into a commercial spot, but said that could be addressed by requiring only those funding at more than 25% of an ad to be identified.

Several weeks ago, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, the Sunlight Foundation and the Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law School renewed their call for disclosure of the "true" sponsors" of political ads.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the groups said the FCC needs to implement rules “requiring (broadcast) licensees to fully and fairly inform viewers and listeners about the true sponsorship of political advertisements

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.