Common Cause, Allies Charge TV Stations With Ignoring Political Ad Disclosure Rule

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Scott Swenson 202 736-5713

Dale Eisman, 202 736-5788

Common Cause, Allies Charge TV Stations With Ignoring Political Ad Disclosure Rule

Complaint to FCC Seeks Enforcement Actions Against 18 Outlets in 4 States

WASHINGTON - Common Cause and two other advocacy organizations filed formal complaints against 18 television outlets in four states today, asking the Federal Communications Commission to order the broadcasters to disclose on air the “true identity” of the sponsors of political advertising appearing on their stations.

The complaints charge that the stations have been running political ads identified on air as paid for by “Independence USA PAC,” a political action committee, but have failed to reveal that the real source of the money behind them is the committee’s founder and sole funder, billionaire businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“It’s past time for the FCC to enforce the law and require the disclosure demanded by the Communications Act,” said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “As we enter an election year, Americans have a particularly vital interest in knowing who is behind efforts to influence our votes.”

As they filed complaints at the FCC, the groups also sent letters informing more than 100 other stations that Bloomberg is the true sponsor of Independence USA PAC ads, and warning of the potential for similar action if the stations fail to identify him.

The Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center joined Common Cause in filing the complaints. The action is believed to be the most comprehensive attempt ever to force enforcement of a longstanding FCC disclosure requirement on funding of political ads. The three organizations are being represented by the Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law Center.

The complaints note that as early as the 1940s, the FCC pointed out to broadcasters that Section 317 of the Communications Act requires that stations “fully and fairly disclose the true identity” of the sponsors of political ads. The disclosure requirement also is in the agency’s rulebook but in an October letter to Chairman Tom Wheeler, Common Cause and its allies charged that the FCC has failed to enforce it.

While ads backed by “independent” groups carry the groups’ names, they generally do not reveal the individuals, corporations or associations that fund those groups.

The Independence USA ads targeted in the complaints take on state attorneys general – Democrats and Republicans – who’ve voiced opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” which imposes limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

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Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

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