Broadcasters Drop Fight Against Campaign Ad Transparency
February 9, 2015
One of the best recent FCC decisions was the requirement that all broadcast television stations make available online the public inspection files that used to be accessible only if you were willing to travel to your local TV station and wade through filing cabinets full of paper documents.
Now you only need to go as far as your personal computer to search, an especially valuable tool for those who want to know who’s paying for all those political ads that jam the airwaves during election season and deliver a fortune to broadcasters. While not a perfect system, with the ever-increasing secrecy over the sources and amounts of campaign contributions, the FCC rules are one way to try to figure out who’s writing the checks.
Back in 2012, Bill Moyers observed that broadcasters were pushing back hard against the FCC rules, “stamping their feet like spoiled children and shouting: ‘No! We will not!’” The Washington Post reported that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the leading lobbyist for TV and radio stations, had “told the FCC recently that the agency lacks power to make the change.”
The FCC pushed ahead, beginning with the top broadcast stations in the top 50 markets and then expanding last year to all markets.
This week, the NAB voluntarily withdrew its appeal of the FCC rules. Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, one of several groups that supported the FCC in the NAB dispute, commented, “Now the FCC should take the next logical steps to require the information to be filed in a standardized, searchable, and sortable database. Currently, most stations upload ‘pdfs’ with no standard format. And further the agency should follow through on its proposed rulemaking to expand the requirements to cable, satellite and radio.”
That expansion is a next logical step toward greater transparency of where campaign money’s coming from and how it’s spent. That Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued by the FCC in December. We’ll monitor its progress and let you know how you can make your opinion known.
Americans to FEC: Do Your Job and Regulate Political Donations
February 6, 2015
When the Federal Election Commission puts out a call for public comment, you might not expect many Americans to actually follow through and participate. But over the past several months, the FEC has invited the public to weigh in on the role of money in politics, and found itself flooded with more than 32,000 submissions.
The open comment period came in the wake of new FEC rules responding to the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision. In that case, the Court declared restrictions on the total amount an individual can donate to political campaigns unconstitutional.
The ruling, and the FEC’s new rules, will make it easier for joint fundraising committees to take large checks and parcel them out to multiple candidates. The Center for Public Integrity explains that campaign finance reform advocates worry about “a sort of systemic corruption that may arise through the formation of jumbo joint fundraising committees. The leader — possibly a ranking party member — might become a sort of power broker, and the person who wrote the check would no doubt be remembered fondly as the Congress goes about its business.”
Those who submitted comments were overwhelmingly troubled by the increasing role in federal elections of big spending and dark money. FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub told The Washington Post that about 24,000 of the comments — 75 percent — called for increased FEC regulation of political giving. (Of the remaining 8,000 comments, some 5,000 were about regulating Internet speech, not campaign finance.)
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