Public Interest Groups Urge FCC to Continue Improving Political Ad Transparency


Today, the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition (PIPAC), whose members include the Benton Foundation, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Free Press, the New America Foundation and the United Church of Christ Office of Communication Inc., along with the Sunlight Foundation, filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the agency’s rules requiring broadcasters to post their political files online.
In April 2012, the FCC adopted rules requiring broadcasters in the top 50 markets that are affiliated with the "top four" national networks to post their political files online. All other stations will be required to post their files online by July 2014. Political files contain information on political advertisements, including the groups purchasing ads, the prices paid and times aired. They include political advertising information on all electoral races and ballot initiatives — information that is not available anywhere else. Posting these files online has created greater transparency about the impact of political ads on the electoral process.

In their filing, PIPAC and the Sunlight Foundation underscore the public benefits of the FCC’s online-posting requirement. Having access to online files has contributed to more comprehensive reporting on the sources of political advertising and has provided the public with critical information regarding the funders behind these advertisements.

In today's filing, the groups call for improvements to the current reporting system and urge the FCC to adopt data and reporting standards that will improve the accessibility and usability of the data. The groups ask the FCC to adopt data standards that are similar to those the Federal Election Commission uses and recommends that the agency require stations to file machine-readable data. These improvements would help reduce reporting errors while also facilitating the creation of a more user-friendly database.

PIPAC and Sunlight note that taking these steps "would permit political file data to be easily aggregated and analyzed. The public would benefit from being better informed about important electoral races, issues, and the political process in general. It would permit the public, as well as the Commission, to better monitor broadcast stations' compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. Further, it would significantly reduce paperwork burdens for broadcast stations."

To read the comments, click here.