Sunlight and allies file another round of complaints against TV stations

Michael Bloomberg. (Photo credit: Ralph Alswang/Flickr)

The Sunlight Foundation, Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center have filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission against 18 television stations in seven markets for failing to accurately identify the true sponsor of ads run by the super PAC Independence USA. In addition, the groups are sending letters to 100 more stations warning them if they air the Independence USA ads, they should identify the true sponsor as Michael Bloomberg, the sole donor to the organization.

TV stations are required to “fully and fairly disclose the true identity” of the sponsor of ads when they air. The complaints allege that since Michael Bloomberg is the creator and only funder of Independence USA, he should be named as the true sponsor in the on-air disclosures. Since the 2012 cycle, Bloomberg has doled out more than $27 million to the super PAC.

“Broadcasters subject voters to billions worth of anonymous smears. This abuse has gone on long enough,” said Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause. “The FCC must give voters the transparency the deserve and the law requires.”

From the complaints/letters:

Independence is not hiding the fact that Michael Bloomberg is the creator and funder of Independence. In fact, in announcing the campaign of which these ads are a part, Independence issued a press release which explicitly states that “Independence USA PAC was created and is funded by Michael R. Bloomberg.” The release explains that the ad campaign is “[b]uilding on Michael R. Bloomberg’s longstanding commitment to environmental and health issues.” It also notes that the ads “build on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ commitment of over $100 million to support national, regional, and state-based groups helping state governments implement the [White House’s] Clean Power Plan,” and that “Bloomberg Philanthropies has directly supported the goals of the Clean Power Plan through its Clean Energy Initiative, a program that builds on the former Mayor’s record of environmental activism.”

The fact that these are Bloomberg’s ads has also been reported prominently in the national media. Headlines in the New York Times have read “Bloomberg Targets Attorneys General With Ads on Carbon Emissions” and “Bloomberg Tries to Help Centrists With TV Ads.” One of the articles reports that “Mr. Bloomberg will pay for television ads through his Independence USA PAC,” and others have described the ads as being purchased by “Independence USA–Michael Bloomberg’s PAC.”

The super PAC reportedly spent a sum reaching eight figures in order to place ads on television stations in Missouri, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. The advertisements criticized attorneys general in those states for filing lawsuits in opposition to the Clean Power Plan.

In a press release, Bloomberg even offered a quote about the ads:

“The lawsuits filed last week against the Clean Power Plan will not stop the decline of coal, given its unpopularity and increasingly unattractive economics,” said Michael R. Bloomberg. “But when Attorneys General put the coal industry’s financial interests ahead of their constituents’ right to breathe clean air, we want their constituents to know about it – and these ads will help make sure they do.”

The stations receiving complaints had previously received warning letters asking them to amend their filings to disclose the origin of the ad.

“These stations have been warned that they were violating the law. Yet these broadcasters have made a conscious decision that they would risk possible FCC enforcement actions rather than risk angering the deep-pocketed special interests that spend huge sums on TV ads each election season,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Here are the cities/stations receiving complaints:

St. Louis: KMOV (CBS)



Orlando-Daytona Beach: WESH (NBC); WKMG-TV (CBS); WOFL (FOX)