Dems pressure FCC to 'require disclosure' for political ads

House Democrats on Wednesday pressed for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reveal the sponsors of political advertisements.

“In today's political reality of non-stop campaigning, our system continues to fail the American people by allowing special interests and shadow groups to flood our airwaves with anonymous ads, with no disclosure whatsoever,” the lawmakers said in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

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“We believe the Federal Communications Commission has the responsibility and legal authority to require disclosure of the actual donors behind these ads.”

The letter was signed by 168 lawmakers, just 20 short of the entire House Democratic Caucus. They argue that the FCC has the ability to compel the person whose donation finances a political ad to identify themselves, as opposed to just the organization sponsoring it. 

Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and John YarmuthJohn YarmuthA case for the Yarmuth-Price resolution Subcommittee clears bill on cap for phone, internet subsidies Lawmakers split on cap for internet, phone subsidies at hearing MORE (D-Ky.) spearheaded the letter.

The Democrats argue the commission can take action under the a provision that asks the agency to “fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person or persons, or corporation, committee, association or other unincorporated group” behind an ad. Critics of the commission say that that should mean disclosing the donors who pay for ads through outside groups, not just the groups themselves.

“In the new era of non-disclosing political organizations with intentionally opaque names, this interpretation is woefully out of date,” the lawmakers wrote. “While a non-disclosing organization may in fact have had editorial control over the advertisement, the true sponsors of the advertisement are those who contributed the money to pay for it.”

The lawmakers sent the letter just over a week before the FCC is scheduled to vote on whether to require more types of broadcasters to post files online that disclose details about political advertising.

But FCC action on the issue is unlikely in the near future. Wheeler has been reluctant to spend political capital on the issue before, and the commission has a busy agenda in the coming months.

FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said the agency had received and was reviewing the letter.