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Feb-23-2012 13:48printcomments

Senators Encourage FCC Effort to Make Campaign Advertisements More Transparent

With the 2012 election season already underway, citizens have a right to know who is purchasing public airtime to support or oppose candidates.

FCC
Salem-News.com

(WASHINGTON DC) - Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley led a group of eight Senators in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski encouraging swift implementation of a proposed rule to make political advertisements more transparent.

“With the 2012 election season already underway, citizens have a right to know who is purchasing public airtime to support or oppose candidates,” the Senators wrote. “More people rely on TV stations for information than any other medium, making transparency in advertising critically important. However, the creators of campaign ads often hide behind confusing organizational names that do not provide adequate information about who is actually paying for the ads, or worse, can actually mislead the public about the identity or purpose of the advertisement.

“The online posting of information in broadcast stations’ political file cannot wait until months after the election; citizens deserve to know who is responsible for funding these advertisements today.”

This problem has become widespread in this election cycle with the Citizens United decision creating a proliferation of ads backed by opaque outside groups. A recent analysis by OpenSecrets.org found that, as of January, more than 95% of spending on the 2012 elections had been backed by outside groups as opposed to candidates and political parties. At the same point in 2008, the ratio was roughly 50-50.

The proposed rule would require broadcast stations to make files related to political advertisements available publicly online. The stations are currently required to make the files available to the public, but only in paper form. Additionally, the Senators requested that the information be posted in a searchable database to make it easier for voters to find information about the ads they are viewing.

In addition to Senator Merkley, the letter was signed by Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

The full text of the letter follows below.

    February 22, 2012
    Julius Genachowski
    Chairman
    Federal Communications Commission
    445 12th Street SW
    Washington, DC 20554

      Dear Chairman Genachowski,

        We want to express our full support of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed rule to have broadcast stations make political files publicly available online and we urge you to implement these proposed rule changes as soon as possible. With campaign season in full swing and new Super PACs springing up weekly, the public must have access to information about who is funding these ads.

        Currently, broadcast stations are required to make the public inspection file, including the political file regarding campaign ads, available to the public in paper form only. Taking the additional step of having these documents available online would create transparency in a time of increasing campaign-finance secrecy. The information in these files should be available in an online, searchable database, and disclosures should include information about the people and organizations that purchase political advertisements.

        With the 2012 election season already underway, citizens have a right to know who is purchasing public airtime to support or oppose candidates. More people rely on TV stations for information than any other medium, making transparency in advertising critically important. However, the creators of campaign ads often hide behind confusing organizational names that do not provide adequate information about who is actually paying for the ads, or worse, can actually mislead the public about the identity or purpose of the advertisement. This problem is compounded by the Citizens United decision and the proliferation of Super PACs. The online posting of information in broadcast stations’ political file cannot wait until months after the election; citizens deserve to know who is responsible for funding these advertisements today.

        When formulating the final rule, we urge you to take into consideration the comments of broadcasters and do everything possible to find a cost-effective and efficient method for publishing this information online, especially for small- and medium-sized stations.

        We urge the FCC to act swiftly and decisively to make the entire public inspection file readily available to the public, by posting the information in an online, searchable database. The contents of the political file must be included, since that information is necessary for the public to know the truth behind who is funding campaign ads. While acting quickly to establish the new rules, we ask that the FCC make every effort to limit the administrative burden to broadcasters. The public files need to be taken out of the file cabinet and moved onto the Internet to ensure that the public has easy access to this information.

        Sincerely,
        Senator Jeff Merkley





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      Hank Ruark February 23, 2012 4:07 pm (Pacific time)

      TO ALL; Perhaps the most important political action you personally can take NOW is to solidly support this demand on the FCC by this group of leading Senators. It is brute fact that the TV stations are making literally millions from this new enforced flow of campaign ads, and they should surely now be wiling to take the step of making the sources for all the ads, and thus the monies also involved, a matter of transparent and rapidly accessible public record. That is their Constitutional duty and small recompense for the privilege they use every hour of broadcast over the public airwaves.


      Anonymous February 23, 2012 2:06 pm (Pacific time)

      Gee no republicans signed Sen. Merkley's letter, wonder why? Maybe also have the powers that be have all individuals in the print and television media make public in their individual corporation(s) at time of political adds that they are behind when run in that media they own/work for? Let's see the other side of the "corporation" is not a person. Of course the media is a corporation and it all tilts heavy to the left and that's why the democrats will leave them alone, unless it's the FOX network or radio.

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