Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to take a helpful step towards transparency by requiring broadcasters to post files online about who is buying advertising time for political candidates. Such information has to date only been available by going to television stations to inspect files in person. In February, United States Senators Jeff Merkley (OR), Al Franken (MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Michael Bennet (CO), Mark Begich (AK), Daniel Akaka (HI), Jon Tester (MT) and Tom Udall (NM), called for this action to make political advertisements more transparent.
"Citizens United unleashed a flood of money into campaigns -- money that threatens to drown out the voice of the people," Sen. Merkley said. "We need to beat back that tide of cash and the first step is in letting citizens know who exactly is paying for political ads. I applauded the FCC's action today. Disclosure is the first step toward turning our nation back to "we, the people' from "we, the powerful'."
"Minnesotans deserve fair and transparent elections," said Sen. Franken. "Making sure that every Minnesotan knows who is funding the election ads they see and hear is even more important now that the Supreme Court has allowed companies to contribute unlimited amounts of corporate cash to influence elections. I'm pleased the FCC decided to make this requirement. It's one step out of the many needed to make our elections as transparent as possible."
"Even with Election Day still months away, the negative political ads paid for with anonymous money have already hit Colorado," said Sen. Bennet. "It's bad enough that we are inundated with these ads. It's outrageous that we don't know who is funding them. Although we have a long way to go before we have full transparency, this rule is an important step in that direction. I look forward to continuing to work to shine a light into these shadows of our political process."
"When it comes to political advertising, Alaskans deserve to know who is paying for what messages," Sen. Begich said. "The more we can do to bring transparency to this process, the better. I post my financial disclosure forms on-line, and I am glad to see the FCC make the disclosures of political advertisers that much easier to find and understand."
"With record sums of money funneling into our elections for television advertisements, the FCC's ruling will increase transparency and let voters know who is funding attack ads, allowing people to make more informed decisions on election day," Sen. Akaka said. "I thank the FCC for helping us move in the right direction, although there is still more work to be done on campaign finance reform."
"Requiring broadcasters to post their political files online is a step toward more transparent elections," said Sen. Tom Udall. "When negative campaign ads flood the airwaves, at a minimum, voters should know who's paying for them and how much they've spent. I applaud the FCC for doing their part to open up election spending to greater public scrutiny and hope other agencies will follow suit."
In an effort to find how much time and money it would take to retrieve political advertising information, FCC staffers recently tried to access the political ad buys at a station in Baltimore. According to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, it took more than 60 hours and cost the FCC nearly $2,000 in photocopying fees.
The new rule would require broadcast stations to make files related to political advertisements available publicly online. The stations are currently required to make the files available to the public, but only in paper form, requiring individual trips to each station to review the information. The data will now be compiled on the FCC's website.