Coming online soon: More political ad disclosure

The FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: FCC/Flickr)

Good news: Beginning, June 24, 2016, you will be able to get more information about political ads running on cable, radio and satellite stations across the United States.

In January, the Federal Communication Commission voted to require cable, radio and satellite companies to upload their public files online. (Cable systems with fewer than 1,000 subscribers are exempt.)

As we first wrote after the January decision, this is a huge victory for transparency and, furthermore, for convenience. Our own Libby Watson learned that firsthand when she tried to inspect public files in person to track down who was behind the group “Protect America’s Consumers” which was running ads opposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

After June 24, those disclosures will be available online, and we’re exploring options for making this new data available through our Political Ad Sleuth tool. Ad Sleuth currently allows you to search the political ad contracts filed at broadcast stations across the United States, showing who placed the ads, when they ran and how much they cost.

The Sunlight Foundation in partnership with Campaign Legal Center,Common Cause, the Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation and others has advocated for expansion of political ad disclosure since the original rule requiring broadcast television stations to report this information was passed in 2012. Information like this helps voters know who is behind the ads attempting to sway their votes and allows them to “consider the source” when evaluating the merits of those ads. There’s still room for improvement – for instance, we’re written about the emerging Internet blind spot and the need for machine-readable files (not handwritten PDFs) from the FCC – but we’re happy to see progress like this before voters cast their votes in November.