TV Networks Sued For Hiding Who's Buying Political Ads

from the a-little-sunlight,-please dept

The money in politics issue is one that gets a lot of attention and the good folks over at the Sunlight Foundation have been trying to help provide much more transparency for years. And now they're bringing out the lawyers. Teaming up with the Campaign Legal Center and represented by Georgetown University's Institute for Public Representation, the Sunlight Foundation has filed complaints against 11 TV stations for blatantly violating the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which requires networks disclose who is actually buying political ads on TV.
Political nonprofits, which often come with singularly uninformative names like "American Action Network" or "Patriot Majority USA," are not required to disclose much of their spending — or any of their donors — to the FEC. But there is one place where they do have to leave a paper trail: the TV stations where they buy ads. That's why we put our focus there.
Just one problem: a bunch of TV networks have basically done everything possible to avoid complying. Even though courts have said that the major TV stations need to post very specific information online, many simply don't include the necessary (and required) information.
Why is it important? Because "Americans for Better Apple Pie" might be your local slag heap operator. "Citizens for a Conservative GOP" might be Democrats trying to sabotage the primary contender that they think has the best chance of beating their candidate in the general. These are not far-fetched scenarios. Take a look at this ad, which doesn't anywhere mention toxic materials, but which paint an indubitably positive picture of the chairman of the House committee that's now working on a rewrite of the government law on toxic waste. Unless you are looking carefully at your TV screen at just the right time, you'd miss the fact that these ads are brought to you by the American Chemistry Council — an organization that is lobbying on the bill in question. Without the online TV ad files, you'd never know that the American Chemistry Council spent some $250,000 airing the ad.
Hopefully the FCC actually does something and makes these networks obey the law.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Violynne (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 4:47am

    "Hopefully the FCC actually does something and makes these networks obey the law."
    I laughed.

    Seriously, if the FCC can't even fine a network for "obscenity" as outlined by its "laws", does anyone here truly think the FCC has any power to regulate at all?

    They're a worthless waste of taxpayer money.

    When the FCC can regulate anything, please highlight this article in all bold, blue, and title it "The End Is Nigh: The FCC Wins One Finally!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    NoahVail (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 4:56am

    It's also good to learn how much money the news orgs receive from the political candidates they report on.
    Ultimately we all respond to whoever writes our paychecks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 5:03am

    Re:

    "They're a worthless waste of taxpayer money."

    I doubt the corporate good ol' boys appreciate disparaging their corporate lapdog.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 5:10am

    nothing will happen here. there's too much money going in the right direction!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anon E. Mous (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 5:20am

    The T.V. networks aren't worries about the courts or the FCC.
    they are not going to do anything that would jeopardize a major cash cow for them.

    Look at Kevin Trudeau, the FCC banned him from running any infomercials. Did the Networks fear the FCC coming after them when Trudeau started popping up as a so called "guest" on infomercials being interviewed for his latest book? Hell no!

    Trudeau bought a ton of late night ad spots from the Networks, and all the Networks were happy to take his money even though they knew of Trudeau's FCC ban.

    So don't expect the networks to do something that would risk millions of dollars they make from the political ad groups.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 5:48am

    Money talks.

    No one has the will to make them live up to the rules, because they like how things are happening.
    The public assumes because there is a rule/law there is no problem and blissfully wander along expecting someone else to deal with it if there is a problem.

    The commercials don't have to be factual.
    The commercials generate income to the media who should be investigating the claims.
    The commercials elect people who remember all the 'little people' who got them into office with laws and policies that benefit the donors over the people.

    One would hope one of these days the people might actually stop and consider there MIGHT be a connection between commercials to reelect someone who then use the law to protect the company that paid for commercials to put him back in office.

    Quid pro quo at the expense of everything else, lets hope we decide to do something about this before people start dropping like flies because the law no longer required any safety checks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 6:10am

    Hopefully the FCC actually does something and makes these networks obey the law.

    I will exercise my artistic self by imagining the scene:

    FCC: So you broke the law.
    GUILTY TV: Yes.
    FCC: That's a no go, we'll have to take the appropriate measures.
    GUILTY TV: *waves money in front of the right persons*
    FCC: Aww silly, don't do it again oki doki? *gives the tv a very soft and gentle wrist slap*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 7:09am

    Re:

    Try exercising your natural right to broadcast over corporate controlled spectra and you'll see how fast the FCC police come down on you with SWAT team like armament.

    Try to even record broadcast television and radio and redistribute it to others and the corporate legal system will come down on you so hard you won't even know what happened.

    The FCC has always existed for the sole purpose of limiting competition and serving the interests of a few monopolists. Consumer protection is just a pretext. Don't fool yourself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 7:12am

    Re: Re:

    Heck, try even building your own cableco/telco/internet infrastructure and you'll quickly learn how much the incumbents control the legal system and what they can do to prevent it.

    Government exists to limit competition and make everything more expensive for you. This is the exact opposite of free market capitalism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    kenichi tanaka (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 8:11am

    Seriously? The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which requires networks disclose who is actually buying political ads on TV. That would defeat the purpose of the Citizen's United ruling.

    I guess these idiots that filed this lawsuit plum-dumb forgot that "the Supreme Court overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns".

    TV Networks are not obligated to report who advertised what and until the Supreme Court decision is overturned by the Supreme Court itself, this lawsuit won't go anywhere.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 8:23am

    Just another reason to stop watching television.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    And banning all paid political advertising from television and radio.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 10:08am

    yryfyyyyfufhyufyifuufiuij gchkxdydydiiduihhcuxjiyuxyduyxuxu dud et si y du didhdb dyiuidhdhdidudiuxjjd xhdiduuuuddêgfufyfuffufufifufueiujfhhcdkhduid dhidjdidj
    Agrydgdhdhhhyggfuhufyufhjhfjhfhhhjjhhffhhffhhhhfhbhfjfhfjhjfjfhfjhuju hufhfjcjcjfufj

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 10:42am

    Great, we'll finally learn...NOTHING

    Like this will do a lot of good: If they win, we'll all get to easily read the name of the PAC that bought that advertisement. Which we can see right now, with a DVR and a magnifying glass. (The DVR to stop motion during the half-second the message is displayed and the magnifying glass to help us read the Flyspeck 4-point font.)

    Then all we'll need is a psychic to learn who financed the PAC. And since that doesn't work very well, all we'll learn is that the advertisement was paid for by "The We for Us Political Action Committee" or some other equally pithy thing.

    In other words, if they win these lawsuits, we will still know NOTHING.

    Might as well be Sgt. Schultz.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2014 @ 10:43am

    Re:

    Exactly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Rocco Maglio (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 10:55am

    Re: Re:

    What do you mean by paid political advertising. Can NBC do a one sided Obama interview? They are controlled by NBC which has a couple of merges they are trying to push through. Is that a political ad? If you limit paid political advertising you are then saying the only people allowed speech on candidates is the news media. Get ready for some pro media laws.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 11:04am

    Re: Re: Re:

    The first step is to ban all paid political advertising. Meaning just that: paid political advertising. One-sided interviews, etc., would not be banned.

    The purpose of the ban is to get rid of the need for candidates to raise the insane amounts of money they need to raise in order to run a successful campaign -- which is pretty much all about fund to buy TV ads.

    The point you raise is a valid one, but addresses a slightly different problem, and requires a different solution.

    "If you limit paid political advertising you are then saying the only people allowed speech on candidates is the news media."

    I don't buy this at all, actually, but even if it's true -- it's not much different than what exists right now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Eldakka (profile), May 5th, 2014 @ 5:26pm

    Re:

    IANAL, but as far as I understand citizens united ruling, it overturned restrictions/limits on the amount/size of campaign contributions, it didn't overturn reporting requirements, which is what this suit is about.

    Or did I misunderstand?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Zonker, May 6th, 2014 @ 4:06pm

    Re:

    It appears that the Feds have actually noticed and caught up to Kevin Trudeau and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Of course, the networks themselves still face no penalties for enabling and promoting him as you said.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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