Shining Light on Political Advertising


For most Americans, the incessant barrage of political ads on TV are still a few months away. But in Wisconsin, the electioneering is well underway with exorbitant fundraising spent on political ads in the recall election of Governor Scott Walker scheduled for next Tuesday.

In the post-Citizens United era of unlimited fundraising (and spending) by super PACs, the elections in Wisconsin are just a preview of what is to come this fall. While much of this ‘dark money’ is hidden from detection by the Federal Election Commission there is a one place where they have to leave a paper trail: at the TV stations where they buy their political ads. For the first time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled to require television stations in the top 50 media markets to put their public and political files online. These files contain information on political ad spending which are crucial to the public interest, and provide a glimpse into who is trying to influence our vote.

Not surprisingly, the broadcasters have filed a lawsuit against the disclosure requirement. Even if the broadcasters are forced to comply with the ruling, the top 50 media markets still only cover a fraction of the swing states where the majority of political ad spending will occur.

That is why Sunlight Foundation is working with Free Press, New America Foundation and other coalition members to recruit volunteers, journalists and allies across the country to inspect political files at TV stations and post our findings online. With the national attention (and fundraising dollars) focused on Wisconsin, we are starting here to shine light on political ad spending by unlocking the political files at the broadcast stations. But we need your help!

Sign up to become a political ad sleuth and we will send you all the information you need to inspect the files at your local station.