Watchdog demands disclosure of political ad sponsors


A company that airs an ad for a good or a service must identify itself, according to FCC rules, and Media Access Project says that the same logic should apply to those buying time to promote a political message. And that means changing the rules so big donators cannot hide their presence behind a front group.

According to MAP, that simply means the FCC needs to bring existing rules up to date within the authority it already has.

MAP Policy Director/SVP Andrew Jay Schwartzman said, “The FCC has repeatedly said that members of the public are entitled to know by whom they are being persuaded, and it has stressed that this is especially important in the case of political messages. This petition simply seeks to update the FCC’s rules to fulfill its Congressional mandate.”

MAP explained what it would like see codified into the regulations, stating, “Under the proposed rule, any person providing 25% or more of the funds for a political TV message must be identified on the air, and a list of all persons providing 10% or more of such funds must be listed in the station’s public file.”

MAP noted how recent developments at the Supreme Court and the FEC have unleashed a flood of new political advertising, and added, “Moreover, although the Communications Act of 1934 does require on air sponsorship identification, the FCC has interpreted the law so that it has been possible for funders to hide behind ‘front’ groups. The petition would change the FCC’s rules to accommodate these changed circumstances.”

MAP’s petition and proposed rule can be read here.

RBR-TVBR observation: We think there may be strong opposition to the MAP proposal from advertising execs, who hate having to waste so much as a second on disclaimers of any kind. But in the case of political advertising, it is already SOP to include a stand-by-your-ad statement from political candidates, so political ad producers have a lot of practice.

And we believe parties from both sides of the fence would be pleased to see which hitherto anonymous opposition moneybags emerge from the shadows to take credit for a message.

Wouldn’t it be cool to see George Soros or the Koch brothers tagged on to the end of a commercial signing the check they wrote to put an ad on the air?

However, given the trajectory of political advertising regulation the last few years, we just don’t see this going anywhere. But we’ve been surprised in the past. Maybe MAP will be able to get enough of a drumbeat going to at least put this issue on the table. So we’ll be watching.