So, why should you and I care? We should care because these groups aren’t required to disclose where their money comes from, while at the same time they’re running false ads aimed at hijacking elections.
In a nutshell, the process is a perversion of our democratic process.
It was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that opened the floodgates to this new era of excessive third-party attack ads. Thanks to that decision, some of these groups are exempt from having to publicly disclose their donors, while others are allowed to spend unlimited sums of money on ads against any candidate they want to target.
So, what’s the big deal if groups can spend unlimited money? After all, the Supreme Court decided that these groups were “persons” with a right to free speech. Well, legally they can speak for as much air time as money can buy.
But, I would argue these groups are not “persons.” They’ve become so much more than that. They’re entities primarily financed by wealthy political extremists. They saturate airwaves with support for candidates who speak for only for their narrow special interests. These groups don’t speak for a majority of Americans. And, fortunately, they didn’t speak for a majority of Floridians
When we pull back the curtain on a political attack ad, we oftentimes see that it has been paid for by a group taking money from vested political and economic interest groups. That information should be disclosed during the airing of the ad. The American people deserve to know who is trying to influence an election.
Americans would never stand for deceptive TV advertising about the source of the foods we eat or the water we drink. Why should these political groups get away with it?
Disclosure also holds the speakers’ feet to the fire and makes them, and them alone, accountable for the veracity of their ad. When groups remain anonymous, they can distort the truth and get away with it.
In a January report to Congress, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the authority to require on-air sponsorship identification. The GAO also made recommendations for the agency to update its rules. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. Many of the FCC's rules and on-air sponsorship guidance still reflect the advertising landscape that existed in the 1960s. We’re still stuck in the Mad Men era, but we need rules that are relevant today.
I asked the FCC during an oversight hearing last week to start enforcing laws already on the books that require more disclosure in broadcast political advertising. Four of the five commissioners waffled.
Let’s see now if the commission takes steps to reduce the influence of outside money in the political process. There is no doubt the FCC has a critical but largely unused role to play in making sure that political ads are open, honest and transparent – thus ensuring undisclosed corporate dollars aren’t stealing elections.
Nelson serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee overseeing the FCC.