The FCC has been working to add transparency to the ex parte process, which is the use of written or face-to-face communication with key Commission personnel from the Commissioners on down in an effort to influence policy. Free Press wants more than just a rapid summary of what was discussed with whom – it wants to know the financial backers of front groups that in some cases are doing the discussing.
For instance, it notes a group called the Internet Innovation Alliance, which has an interest in matters that are decided at the FCC. It notes that it may be well and good for IIA to divulge its meetings and topics, but it would all be much clearer to people reviewing the disclosure if they also are made aware that IIA “…frequently fails to disclose its close ties to AT&T.”
Free Press notes that it is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, which called an FCC proposal to require financial backer disclosure “illogical, illegal and even unconstitutional.”
Free Press notes that its target is not organizations such as NAB or NCTA – it wants to shine the light on so-called “astroturf” organizations that masquerade as grassroots organizations but are actually formed and maintained by major industry players.
“The purpose of conflict-of-interest disclosure rules is not to burden organizations that have well known relationships with companies, such as trade associations or other groups that exist to advance a clear and specific industry agenda,” said Free Press. “The purpose is to expose the organizations that claim to speak for the public but really speak for corporations, to make the voice of the actual public clearer, and to improve the transparency and democracy of FCC processes. The FCC seems to get it – let’s hope the Chamber and its allies don’t throw the agency off course.”
RBR-TVBR observation: This reminds us of the attempt to circumvent Citizens United by calling for contribution declarations by executive order. If the FCC honors Free Press’s wishes, how many nanoseconds to you think it will take Fred Upton (R-MI) and Greg Walden (R-OR) to haul FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to Capitol Hill to explain it?