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.