FCC Chair Tom Wheeler taking “seriously” complaint about political advertisers

The logos for Sunlight and Campaign Legal next to each other.

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday gave 11 television stations across the country two weeks to respond to a complaint that they allowed political advertisers to end-around public disclosure requirements.

“We take political file complaints seriously,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement about the agency’s response to a complaint filed May 1 by the Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center. The organizations are being represented by Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation.

Stations named in complaint

Click on the links below to see the FCC’s letters to the stations.

  • Charlotte, N.C.: WCNC (NBC)
  • Denver: KMGH (ABC)
  • Detroit: WDIV (NBC), WWJ (CBS)
  • Durham, N.C.: WTVD (ABC)
  • Phoenix: KNXV (ABC)
  • Manchester, N.H.: WMUR (ABC)
  • Miami: WTVJ (NBC)
  • Minneapolis: KMSP (FOX)
  • Tampa: WFLA (NBC), WTVT (FOX)

Sunlight and its partners contend TV stations are routinely allowing political advertisers to flout federal law. The advertisers are supposed to disclose names of candidates and issues of national interest mentioned in their commercials, as well as the principals (executives or board of directors) of the group making the buy, but research by the Sunlight Foundation and the Institute for Public Representation documented that the requirements are often ignored.

In letters to top executives of the stations named in the complaint, the FCC says its Media Bureau “has concluded that further information is necessary.” The letter asks the stations to demonstrate they have complied with disclosure rules and regulations “and, if not, explain why.”