Watchdogs Call On FCC to Extend Online Political File Requirements to Cable and Satellite Systems

The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation called on the Federal Communications Commission today to extend to cable and satellite systems the requirement that their political files be posted on the FCC’s online database.  The petitioners are represented by the Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown University Law Center.  
In a petition for rulemaking, the watchdog groups noted political spending on cable has increased by one-third in each election cycle since 2008 and is expected to comprise roughly one-fourth of all political television spending in 2014.  About 90% of American households subscribe to paid television.
Currently, broadcasters, cable, and satellite systems that air political advertisements must maintain public inspection files that include schedules of time purchased, when spots actually aired, the rates charged, the classes of time purchased and, in the case of “issue advertisements,” the members of the board of directors of the purchasing group, and the issue, election, and the candidate mentioned by the ad. This information is critical for voters seeking to determine who is paying to influence elections, especially given the proliferation of undisclosed spending by outside groups in recent election cycles.
As of July 1, all broadcasters must upload this information into the FCC’s online database. However, cable and satellite providers need only disclose this information at their offices, forcing journalists and the general public to make costly and often inconvenient trips to the stations for viewing. Because stations typically are open only during regular business hours, citizens seeking this information often are required to take time off from work to get it.   
The petition filed today asks the FCC to bring cable and satellite providers under the same online public disclosure requirements now applicable to broadcast television stations. This is particularly important because political campaigns, Super PACs, and other outside groups are increasingly advertising on cable and satellite.
“Too many Americans are left in the dark about who or what is bankrolling the sophisticated ad campaigns seeking to influence their vote,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center.  “Online access to these files poses no significant burden on stations.  There is no compelling policy or legal argument to reject this petition for rulemaking.”
“This requirement is so minimal, it's a no-brainer.  The FCC should implement it promptly and then move to require on-air identification of who is REALLY behind all these misleading ads,” said Michael Copps, Special Advisor to Common Cause's Media & Democracy Reform Initiative and former FCC Chair.  
The information about political ads purchased on cable and satellite is too important to keep locked in a filing cabinet," said Sean Vitka, Sunlight Foundation national policy manager. “Broadcasters are now required to put their political files online, and cable companies should be held to the same standard.”
"The FCC has broad powers to give the public more information about political advertising,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Institute of Public Representation of the Georgetown University Law.  “This petition simply asks the Commission to use that authority,"
To view the petition for rulemaking, click here