FCC Complaint Filed Against Disney-Owned ABC Affiliate in Chicago for Ignoring Warnings of Violations of Ad Disclosure Rules


Yesterday, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation filed a complaint at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) alleging violations of long-standing rules and law by WLS, an ABC broadcast television station in Chicago, IL.  WLS is owned by ABC, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.  The complaint notes that WLS refused to disclose the "true identity" of the sponsor of political ads being run by Independence USA PAC, even after the watchdog groups alerted the station to its violations and identified the PAC’s sole sponsor as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“WLS undertook no effort to identify the ad’s true sponsor, despite being warned of its violations and being informed that Michael Bloomberg was the sole backer of Independence PAC,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director.  “This is a knowing and willful violation of the law, but more importantly failure to identify the true sponsor of the ad does a grave disservice to WLS viewers. They were left completely in the dark as to the fact that Michael Bloomberg, hiding behind a deceptively named organization, was spending large sums of money to influence their votes and the outcome of the election.  If WLS is not willing to reveal the man behind the curtain, then we certainly hope the FCC will enforce long standing statutes and compel the station to do so in future.”  

The Communications Act and the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules require broadcasters to go beyond simply naming the entity that paid for an ad.  In this case, Independence USA is essentially a personal advertising arm for Mr. Bloomberg, and the station failed to fully and fairly inform the public about who was attempting to influence them.  Under the Communications Act, broadcasters are required to “exercise reasonable diligence” to obtain the information needed for proper sponsorship identification. 

The complaint requests the FCC to declare that, for its failure to include the true identity of the sponsor of the ad, WLS is not in compliance with Section 317 of the Communications Act and 47 CFR Section 73.1212.  If a violation is found, the FCC can assess a forfeiture for WLS's willful noncompliance with the law and grant other relief at its discretion.

To read the complaint, click here.