FCC to vote on political ad disclosure at end of April

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The FCC is likely to vote in the coming weeks on a new rule that would require broadcasters to post information about their political advertisers online.

Information about who put the money up for a political ad and how much they paid for it is already available to the public in broadcast station files. The rule under consideration would require TV stations to upload this information up to a central federal government website.

An agency announcement Friday stated, “The Commission will consider a Report and Order that increases transparency and improves public access to community-relevant information by moving the television broadcast station public file from paper to the Internet.”

Broadcasters’ resistance to the newly proposed rule has puzzled advocates, who maintain that the rule would simply put what is already available to the public in corporate file cabinets onto the Internet. The New York Times reported Sunday that the FCC said the initial upload costs for each station would only cost $1,000.

Critics see the new rule an effort by the opponents of to subvert the landmark Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. FEC, which stated that the government could not restrict the political expenditures of corporations or unions. The rate at which advertisers book, cancel and reschedule is frequent enough, opponents of the proposed FCC rule contend, that it would put additional and unpredictable costs on broadcasters.

Because of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps retirement last Decemeber, the vote will take place between the three remaining commissioners: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat and law school friend of President Obama; Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican and George W. Bush appointee; and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat and Obama-appointee.

The confirmation of two Obama nominees to the Commission, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel, is currently being blocked by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who has accused the agency of stonewalling his efforts to launch an inquiry into the LightSquared affair.

The non-profit news Web site ProPublica has already “decided to recruit its readers in an effort to scan the political ad files of local stations and publish them online,” reported the New York Times.

The meeting is set for the April 27.

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