Commerce Committee Vote Should Not Sound Death Knell for Broadcast Ad Transparency

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Yesterday, the House Commerce Committee killed an amendment to the FCC Reform Act that would have required groups airing political ads to disclose contributors of $10,000 or more as a condition for purchasing ad time.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Eshoo, is among any number of reasonable attempts to address the avalanche of dark money unleashed since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Sunlight is disappointed by the vote, however the defeat of the amendment does not have to sound the death knell for FCC disclosure. The FCC is currently drafting rules that could shine a light on some of the dark money that is behind the often negative and misleading political ads being paid for by secret special interests.

During the rulemaking process, the Commission asked for comments addressing whether the agency should require broadcasters to disclose the names of the executives behind any entity sponsoring political ads. Broadcasters have been required to collect this information for decades, and the technology is now available to include the information on a centralized database so the public may access it. There is no reason the information should remain hidden from public view.

Opponents of transparency—perhaps the powerful broadcast lobby—appear to have flexed their muscles with the members of the Commerce Committee who voted against the Eshoo amendment. The FCC, on the other hand, should be applauded for considering stronger disclosure rules. Rules must be adopted to ensure the money, interests and influence behind political ads is not hidden in shadows.

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