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Date: September 3, 2014
Radio and Television Business Report, 9/3/2014

Political campaign spending is a concern of public interest watchdogs Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, and Sunlight Foundation, and as such, they have complained that the true identity of ad sponsors on two stations was not properly revealed. The FCC disagreed.

Two specific stations were the targets of petitions for better ad sponsorship identification, WJLA in Washington DC and KGW in Portland OR.

The petitioners named Tom Steyer as the true sponsor of an ad on WJLA, and Sean Fieler as the true sponsor of an ad on KGW, believes they should have been ID’d in the ad, and that the stations should have done a better job of ferreting out this information themselves.

Attorney Brad Deutsch of Garvey Schubert Barer thought it ironic that far from being anonymous, “…the complainants themselves were able to determine the identities of the individuals funding and controlling the Super PACs from the PACs’ own websites and from their campaign finance disclosure filings at the Federal Election Commission.”

In a letter denying both petitions, Robert L. Baker Assistant Chief, Policy Division Media Bureau Federal Communications Commission, wrote, “We conclude that the complaints do not provide a sufficient showing that the stations had credible evidence casting into doubt that the identified sponsors of the advertisement were the true sponsors. As the Commission has stated previously, ‘unless furnished with credible, unrefuted evidence that a sponsor is acting at the direction of a third party, the broadcaster may rely on the plausible assurances of the person(s) paying for the time that they are the true sponsor.’”

He said that the complainants should have first taken their issues to the individual stations before bringing the matter before the FCC.

RBR-TVBR observation: Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United ruling opponents of rampant political spending have been looking to find ways to mute it. Particularly, they want names named in any ads that run. Congress is hamstrung by partisanship, so a legislative fix is out. The Federal Election Commission, which along among federal agencies has a three-Democrat three-Republican makeup, is by far the most impotent agency there is.

So that leaves the FCC. But this really is not the FCC’s job, and we are not surprised to see the FCC resisting the urgent invitation to get tangled up in it.

We particularly like Baker’s statement that broadcasters — who are not enforcers of election law — do not need to conduct a full-scale investigation of the sources of political advertising money. This sensitive task is the domain of trained professionals, not sales people.

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