Incomplete Forms for Attack Ads Draw FCC Complaints Against Broadcasters

The Sunlight Foundation along with the Campaign Legal Center filed complaints last week with the Federal Communications Commission against 11 broadcast television stations nationwide for failure to publicly disclose legally-required information about sponsors of political ads aired this year.

This may have been a warning shot across the bow of broadcasters by the two transparency advocates, as back-and-forth attack ads for this fall’s elections have already been airing in some markets for weeks. Most have been funded by third party groups not directly affiliated with candidates.

Since 2012, major market broadcast stations have been required to file online information forms about political ads, including the candidates to which the ad refers, the issue of national importance to which the ad refers, and either the chief executive officer or the board of directors of the organization that paid for  the ad.

This July, broadcast stations in smaller markets will also be required to fill out the forms. The idea is that if a member of the public wants to know who or which group is behind a particular ad, he or she can go online and find out.

“There are a lot of broadcasters who are filing correctly, as they should be, doing the right thing,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C. “Then there are some egregious cases where they are not. The cases we selected are a representative bunch, but they are not by any means the end of it.

“We think it’s a bad trend and the FCC should put a stop to it by making sure TV stations get the information from advertisers  that is required by law.”

One Denver station, KMGH Channel 7, was named  among the 11 complaints. According to the complaint, KMGH did fill out the form, including the rates, dates and times the ad ran and the candidates referred to in the ad. But the complaint says that the station failed to disclose the  issue addressed by the ad, as well as failing to list the sponsors’ board of directors or chief executive officer.

The ad ran in March and was one of the back and forth attack volleys between groups advocating for Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and for U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican. In this particular ad, it was a pro-Udall Super PAC questioning Gardner’s commitment to Medicare.

“The Congress said, ‘You’ve got to ID the issues, who’s behind it, what’s the agenda,'” said Kiely. “It allows voters to understand the nature of the message, who’s sending this message and why. It’s not too much to ask, and to leave out any of it is against the law.”

KMGH declined comment.

 

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