The FCC’s opportunity to bring all political ad spending online


In early August, the Federal Communications Commission responded to a petition by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation calling for a rule that would bring cable and satellite providers’ already-existing political ad files online. It’s the same requirement that all television broadcasters now comply with.

The FCC quickly acted on our petition, and issued a notice of proposed rulemaking just one week after receiving our petition. For those familiar with the FCC, the speed at which the agency moved on this was shocking.

And even better? They called for comments on whether to bring radio ad files online, too. Ours are here.

Another (unexpected) supporter of the FCC’s plan? The National Association of Broadcasters which was extraordinarily opposed to putting television broadcasting political files online. They are demanding “regulatory parity.”

We’re still going through the comments, but opponents of disclosure generally argue that putting these files online will (1) be hard and (2) reveal company secrets. No matter how true (1) may be, it’s vastly less impressive than how difficult it is for the public to access these files. To get them in their current, paper version, requires showing up to the broadcast center (do you know where your satellite provider’s headquarters is?) during regular business hours, possibly paying a fee, and going through the files one by one, station by station. They’re in the best position to make this change, and they’re the only ones with the information. And, let’s be honest, who keeps paper records anymore, anyway? Number two is a bit of a slicker argument, saying that online publishing reveals too much about what the station selling ad time charges for ad time. This might make sense, if the files weren’t public anyway. In other words, if anyone is running from station to station, it isn’t the researcher or journalist or citizen — it’s the companies who make billions every year from ad spending.

Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding. Rulemaking takes time — a lot more than a week — but the swift response is a welcome amount of attention to a critical issue. If the FCC does decide to require cable, satellite and radio companies to put their files online, we may have an unprecedented view into political spending across all major media platforms (the biggest by revenue is broadcast television) by the 2016 elections, which we’ll now call the oncoming storm.

Take a look at our comments below:

CLC CC Sunlight Radio Political File Comments Final Sunlight Foundation