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Feds order online posting of political ad info next month

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Information about political TV ads must be posted online by Aug. 2 under an order published this morning in the Federal Register.

Sunlight Foundation learned of the order as soon as it was published early this morning from Scout, our new online alert service.Image of file with magnifying glass

The order ratifies a May ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that requires TV stations affiliated with the four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- in the nation's 50 largest television markets to make the information available via the Internet. The National Association of Broadcasters is suing to block the order.

Today's rule issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget, however, gives the TV stations one month to begin complying with the order.

The decision represents a major victory for groups that have been battling for a decade for online disclosure of information contained in television stations public files. Although those files are available for public inspection by law, they are currently available only by in-person inspection and copying at the stations, a process that can sometimes be pricey and cumbersome.

Putting the files online will give voters the only information available about who is behind the shadowy groups now legally permitted to purchase political advertisements without registering with the Federal Election Commission.

Because it only affects the nation's 50 largest television markets, the FCC order will leave large swaths of political battleground states uncovered. The Sunlight Foundation, along with the Free Press and other partners, has launched an effort to gather files from those markets and put them online in a searchable, sortable database in time for the fall campaign season.

(Image credit: Alexsl via Istockphoto.com)