FCC proposes new rules for campaign ad buys

The Federal Communications Commission wants to post more information about political advertising purchases online.

The commission on Thursday proposed expanding its current rules requiring broadcast TV stations, such as NBC and ABC, to post information about political ads on the Internet.

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If the rules are approved, cable, satellite and radio companies would also have to post that data online.

The rules seem likely to be in place for many companies by the time the 2016 election rolls around, which would offer journalists, candidates and others new insights into how campaigns are spending money in what is likely to be the most expensive election in history.

“The commission must modernize its rules to reflect the digital age in which we live, and moving more regulated entities’ public files online is a step in the right direction,” Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, said in a statement.

Currently, people buying up political TV ads have to submit information about those advertisements, but anyone wanting to review them has to go to the company’s office in person and request them. That’s made it difficult for people all around the country to easily compile and analyze how campaigns and outside groups are spending money.

In 2012, the FCC wrote new rules forcing TV broadcasters to upload information about how much people spend on political ads to a central online FCC database. Transparency advocates have long pushed the commission to expand the rules to also include ads that run on cable- and satellite-only channels. 

They cheered this week’s action.

“It could add tens of thousands of radio stations and hundreds of cable systems to a database that gives journalists and the public detailed information about the spending, target audiences and principals of committees trying to influence public opinion,” wrote Sunlight Foundation Managing Editor Kathy Kiely in a blog post. Earlier this year, the Sunlight Foundation joined Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center in a formal request asking the agency to expand its rules. 

The FCC is giving the public 60 days to comment on the new proposal, after which it will see if any revisions need to be made before finalizing them.