House GOP reverses position, won’t block FCC political ad rule

House Republican appropriators on Wednesday reversed their position and will no longer try to block a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation that would require television stations to disclose political ad buyers online.

A draft 2013 Financial Services bill that emerged from subcommittee blocked funding to enforce the regulation. Democrats accused the GOP of trying to hide "fat cat" political donations in an election season in which large, unlimited donations to super-PACs and other outside groups have taken center stage.

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Republicans backed down from the measure at a full Appropriations Committee markup. They offered instead two reporting requirements that would force the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze the economic impact of the rule.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) said the FCC database containing the disclosures will likely be set up before the 2013 bill gets enacted, likely after the election, making any attempt to defund it moot.

"A funding prohibition might not make any sense under these circumstances," she said.

The FCC in April voted to require major network affiliates in the top 50 TV markets to post information about their political ads online.

The rule would apply to all broadcast stations after the first two years.

The files about political ad purchases are currently available to anyone who travels to the television stations to view physical copies of the documents. The new rule requires the information to be posted online as well.

"This is a great step for transparency. With the rider removed, the FCC can continue implementation of the rule. As a result, the American public will get critical information about political spending prior to this November’s elections," said Gavin Baker of the NGO OMB Watch.

Republicans had sided with broadcasters in arguing that the rule would be too costly to implement.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the change represents the tradition of compromise that appropriators are known for. He said the GOP only realized the passion Democrats felt for the issue during the "vigorous" subcommittee debate.