Today the Sunlight Foundation submitted comments encouraging the FCC to quickly create a centralized, publicly accessible database of information about the political ads buys. The current system, in which valuable information about political ads is located in the file cabinets of broadcasters across the country, prevents the information from being shared, analyzed or understood. To truly make the most use of the data, information from broadcasters’ political files should be available to the public on a centralized, searchable, sortable database on the FCC’s website.
As we noted previously, broadcasters will likely complain loudly that online filing requirements will be too burdensome. The FCC should recognize that such a complaint is disingenuous at best. Most data regarding broadcast ads is already submitted in an electronic format. Electronic filing would make it easier to ensure information is complete, timely and publicly available. Moreover, broadcasters have a responsibility to serve the needs of the public in exchange for the use of the public spectrum. Making public information about who is placing and paying for the political ads people are forced to watch is fundamental to serving those needs. Finally, the information about political advertising is already supposed to be public. But in the 21st Century, burying paper in filing cabinets at broadcasters’ offices across the country is anything but public. Public means online.
It is currently too easy to mislead the public about the source of money behind a political ad. A searchable FCC database of ad buys would enable the public to learn who is behind any given political advertisement and allow for big-picture analysis about the money being spent to influence our elections. We applaud the FCC for opening this rulemaking and hope it adopts meaningful rules to create a more transparent system of political advertising.