Broadcasters hit over campaign ad disclosures

Broadcast television stations from Boston to Denver have been accused of failing to disclose legal information about political ads they showed this year.

The Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center on Thursday filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against 11 broadcast TV stations that allegedly failed to publicly disclosure information online about who sponsored political ads they aired this year, as required by law.

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“These files are often the only way we can track political activities and spending by dark money groups that aren’t required to disclose those activities with the Federal Election Commission,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor at the Sunlight Foundation, in a statement.

Alleged violators did not share any particular political leaning, geographic location or network affiliation. 

An NBC affiliate in Tampa, Fla., for instance, aired a National Republican Congressional Committee ad but did not specifically state in its online files that the ad was in support of House candidate David Jolly, who won a special election race in March.

In Phoenix, Ariz., an ABC affiliate allegedly failed to disclose that an ad sponsored by House Majority PAC, a pro-Democrat group, was in support of Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s (D-Ariz.) reelection bid.

Both ads also allegedly failed to disclose the board of directors of chief executives of their sponsors, as required. 

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has opposed the new FCC requirements forcing broadcasters in major markets to post information about political ads online, which the trade group says is a burden for broadcasters and takes up valuable time.

Meredith McGehee, the Campaign Legal Center’s policy director, said the alleged violations “may lift the curtain” on the organization's opposition.

Because of the violations, "the public does not have the information it needs to understand who is speaking on the public airwaves and attempting to influence their views on political issue,” she said in a statement. “The information required to be included in the political file allows viewers to assess for themselves the information they are presented with on the air.”

A NAB spokesman said that the group "takes seriously the political file rules, and will continue working with broadcasters to ensure compliance.”

“We also intend to educate political advertising agencies to enlist support for more accurate information on the disclosure requirements for political ads,” Dennis Wharton added. “Our goal is 100 percent compliance with both the statutory requirements and the FCC rules."

The FCC's online disclosure rule was approved in 2012 and extends to smaller markets later this year. 

-- Updated with NAB's comment at 12:45 p.m.

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