Common Cause lashes out against FCC over political disclosure rules

Public interest groups say they are disappointed that federal regulators will not require broadcasters to reveal the "true identity" of corporations that pay for political advertisements.

One day after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected a petition to strengthen the disclosure rules for political ads, the left-leaning Common Cause and other groups accused the agency of "shirking its responsibilities."

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The public interest groups say the FCC's long-standing political disclosure rules are outdated in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, allowing corporate spending on campaigns.

Under the current rules, corporations can hide behind vague third parties that take their money to pay for the ads, the groups said.

"When you see paid for by 'Americans for Prosperity,' well that doesn't really tell you who provided the money, who is the real sponsor," said Dale Eisman, spokesman for Common Cause.

But Common Cause wants the FCC to require broadcasters to identify the corporations and wealthy individuals who fund these "fronts," Eisman explained.

"The viewer ought to know who is exactly paying for this commercial, who would the candidate owe something to because they helped them?" he said.

Eisman said political disclosures have become a bigger problem since Citizen United, because before that corporate money could not be used in campaign spending.

Now that companies can give money for political ads, "the viewers don't really know who it is that's paid for that ad," Eisman said.

The political disclosure rules apply to all broadcasters, including television and radio stations. 

The Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center joined Common Cause in petitioning the FCC for stricter political disclosure rules.