FCC to Consider Whether to Expand Political Ad Disclosure Rules

The FCC is fielding comments on whether to require that cable and satellite systems post information about political advertising to the commission’s online database.

In 2012, the FCC started requiring major TV broadcasters to post such information online, a move that was regarded as an effort to increase disclosure following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Although broadcasters have challenged the disclosure rules in court, the FCC has continued to implement the rule, as it was extended to all stations on July 1.

The files contain information on a campaign’s purchase of advertising time, including the amount and time of such buys and the names of groups behind the spending.

Three public interest groups — the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation — petitioned the FCC to extend the rule to cable and satellite systems, which are a growing share of political advertising spending. The FCC also is taking comment on whether it should pursue similar rules for broadcast radio stations.

Broadcasters have for years been required to make their political files available to the public, but typically only by visiting the station itself. That is true of many cable providers as well, although Time Warner Cable maintains a database.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on political ads every election cycle seeking to influence cable and satellite viewers and radio listeners, and the stations already ready maintain these files,” Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement.  “Making them available online is not a hardship, especially in light of the economic windfall the stations gain from airing the ads.”

The FCC’s policies also apply to other files available to the public, like ownership information and other reports on public interest programming.

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