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May 14, 2016
FCC COMPLICIT IN HIDING FUNDING SOURCES OF POLITICAL ADS
By Ralph Nader
The plain-spoken, public-spirited former Federal Communications Commissioner,
Michael Copps, is indignant—and for good reason: The FCC is not enforcing the law
requiring the “dark money” super PACs and other campaign cash conduits to reveal,
on-the-air, the names of the real donors behind all political advertisements, which are
now flooding the profitable radio and television airwaves.
It is bad enough that political ads far overwhelm political news stories. One study of
the 2014 election campaign found Philadelphia stations gave 45 times more air time
to political ads than they devoted to their news stories which were designed to inform
viewers about the candidates. Political ads have become a huge cash cow for the
television and radio stations that use OUR public airwaves free of charge. We citizens,
who are the owners of the public airwaves, receive no rent payment from these
tenants. (Thanks to a corrupted Congress!)
As Mr. Copps has written: Viewers watching these ads are provided a nice-sounding
name, such as “Paid for by Citizens for Amber Waves of Grain,” and “nothing else, no
hint of who put up the money; no clue as to the real agenda behind the message.”
They could be chemical companies polluting our water, big arms manufacturers
wanting more over-priced government contracts, or banks who are opposed to proper
regulation of their consumer-gouging tactics and their risky speculation.
Years ago the FCC declared that the Audiences “are entitled to know by whom they
are being persuaded.” So why isn’t the FCC enforcing the clear-cut, unambiguous
section 317 of the 1934 Communications Act? After all the mass media is regularly
writing about dark money, secret money, bought-and paid-for politicians without being
able to supply the names of the donors. The FCC could be the agency that gives the
voters their right to know.
Earlier this year, the FCC voted to require that cable and radio stations maintain a
public file on political advertising. In 2012 the agency required such a public file for
broadcast television stations to maintain a database. But still, there are no
requirements for disclosing the “true identity” of people, corporations or other entities
paying for the ads.
This is what 170 house Democrats demanded that the FCC do in a letter released on
January 20, 2016.
Such a demand, and even the knowledge that voters would overwhelmingly approve
such openness, are not enough for the cautious FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler. His
agency has been sitting on petitions to require disclosure under section 317 for
years. In December 2015, the Sunlight Foundation, Common Cause and the
Campaign Legal Center filed formal complaints against 18 television stations in four
states, asking the Federal Communications Commission to order the stations to
comply with this law. Former Commissioner Copps wonders what else the FCC needs
before it enforces the law that its five Commissioners have sworn to uphold. Billions of
dollars of dark money in this campaign year need to be brought into the sunlight.
Well, as Michael Copps writes, “Broadcasting and cable companies fear that honest
ads might lead to fewer ads and less money in their coffers. Corporate and dark
money interests hide in the shadows of anonymous attacks. Even our major
newspapers shy away from covering this issue, perhaps looking more toward their
bottom-line interests than the public interest. Some of them own other media
Apart from recent exertions on net neutrality, the FCC has been subservient to big
media companies and their docile Congressional allies who don’t want to properly
enforce the 1934 Communications Act, which stipulates that radio and television
broadcasting companies adhere to the legal standard of the “public interest,
convenience and necessity” in presenting programming. That standard implies a fair
balance between serious content and entertainment/advertisements. The FCC,
mercilessly harassed into slumber by members of Congress, has been AWOL from its
On the bigger picture Copps writes, “Big money is corrupting our electoral process,
strangling our civic dialogue, and endangering American self-government. The
agency, the FCC, should respond to the petitions and complaints that have been filed
and indicate if it is going to live up to its obligations.” Law and Order anyone?
Interested citizens may weigh in with their views by contacting FCC Chairman, Tom
Wheeler (as many did effectively on net neutrality) by emailing him at Tom.
The overall subject of media responsibility will be the subject of Day Two (May 24,
2016) of the Super Bowl for Civic Action at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.:
Breaking Through Power.
Visit BreakingThroughPower.org for more information.