February 27, 2012

Broadcasters Lobbying Against Electronic Disclosures Of TV Political Ads

Broadcasters Lobbying Against Electronic Disclosures Of TV Political Ads
Shortly after the Citizens United decision, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas helped headline a fundraising event for the National Association of Broadcasters
In a post-Citizens United era with little to no transparency, many political attack groups have skirted the few mandatory disclosure laws still on the books. In 2010, NPR’s Peter Overby and Andrea Seabrook noted that attack ad groups appeared to be refusing to fill out forms with local broadcasters required by the FCC. The paperwork, which details who purchased the ad and why, was largely disregarded by Republican-friendly corporate groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But even if the Chamber had adequately filled out the paperwork, such forms are out of reach for most of the public. FCC regulations currently require that individuals seeking campaign ad disclosures physically visit the office of network news stations and request the forms. In many cases, the public is turned away, the files are lost, or there are odd business hours for public inspection.

According to Roll Call, the FCC is expected to revise the regulation and replace the decades-old, paper-based filing system with a standardized, online reporting rule. A group of Senators, led by Oregon’s Jeff Merkley (D), is pressing the FCC to release a strong set of transparency rules.

The proposed FCC regulation faces several K Street hurdles. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a powerful lobbying group for network news stations, is fighting the rule, calling the disclosure measure burdensome and unfair. The NAB successfully killed the DISCLOSE Act, another transparency law concerning attack ads, two years ago. The NAB has a massive team of fifteen lobbying firms — in addition to its nineteen in-house lobbyists, like former Senator Gordon Smith — including Mercury and the Podesta Group to help the association influence regulators and lawmakers.

“They say that it will be burdensome and onerous, to which we say: This will be the first time in history that digitizing records is seen as creating more, rather than less, cost,” Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director for the Media Access Project, a pro-disclosure advocacy nonprofit, told Roll Call.