Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

File Under 'Much Needed': The FCC May Expand Its Political Ad Disclosure Rules

Amy Kroin

 by Free Press

The Koch brothers will reportedly spend at least $250 million on the 2014 midterm elections — and that’s a conservative estimate.

While the Kochs may have the fattest wallet in the game, they’re hardly alone: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, spending on elections has skyrocketed. The Court’s more recent ruling in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, which struck down limits on overall campaign contributions donors may make, will only accelerate this trend.

Much of this money goes to the toxic political ads that dominate election cycles. During the 2012 campaign, TV viewers had to endure more than 3 million political ads — a number that may appear insignificant by the time the 2016 presidential race is over and done with.

A silver lining to this media madness comes courtesy of a 2012 FCC rule — created in response to sustained advocacy from Free Press and its allies — mandating that TV stations post their political ad records online. Previously confined to the dusty filing cabinets of local broadcasters’ offices, these records reveal who purchases political ad time and how much they paid for ads. This disclosure is particularly crucial given that it’s possible for Super PACs to otherwise conceal the identity of their donors.

Now the FCC is considering extending its requirement to cable, satellite systems and radio. The proposal is a response to a petition from the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation.

“As cable and satellite systems grow in popularity, they have increasingly become targets for political advertising,” the petition notes. “For instance, political advertising on local cable television tallied $340 million in the 2008 elections cycle, $455 million in the 2010 cycle (an increase of 33.8 percent), and $625 million in the 2012 cycle (an increase of 37.3 percent).”

The Washington Post’s Nancy Scola writes that the FCC seems “eager” to boost political transparency, noting that the petition itself didn’t even cover radio.

Also, she writes, the FCC — which is accepting public comments through Aug. 28 — took just one week to respond to the petition. “This is about as fast as the FCC moves,” public interest lawyer Andrew Schwartzman told the Post. “This is lickety-split.”

The agency site featuring political ad data is a welcome development, especially for journalists and researchers, but not many Americans are likely to run to it for info every time an ad airs. Further reforms are needed.

Schwartzman, who served as a legal adviser to Free Press, has petitioned the FCC to enforce existing sponsor-identification requirements and require that political groups disclose the names of principal funders in the ads themselves. This would allow voters to see — in real time — who’s coughing up record amounts of money to win their vote.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Amy Kroin

Amy Kroin

Amy Kroin is the editor at Free Press and Free Press Action. She is co-author, with Mike Rispoli and Kevin Davis, of the case study New Jersey’s Civic Information Bill: The Story of the Campaign to Transform Local Media.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Amazing News': Historic Shark Protections Approved at Global Wildlife Convention

Up to 90% of sharks targeted by the lucrative fin trade will now be protected, said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'The Nightmare Materializes': Far-Right Extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to Be Israel's National Security Minister

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Palestinian Authority said Ben-Gvir's elevation to national security minister could have a "catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jake Johnson ·


Raging Wars, Soaring Hunger Put Women and Girls in Crosshairs, Warns UN

"A toxic mix of crises—conflicts, climate, skyrocketing costs, and the ripple effects of the Ukraine war—are inflicting a devastating toll on the forcibly displaced. This is being felt across the world, but women and girls are particularly suffering."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo