A bill introduced in the House of Representatives last week proposes that the FCC be required to amend its sponsorship identification rules to require not just the name of the sponsor of an ad addressing “a controversial issue of public importance,” but also the names of any “significant donors” to the sponsor. This bill is meant to address the perceived problem that PACs and other interest groups are buying advertising time on broadcast stations and cable systems to influence the political process, and all the public hears is some innocuous sounding organizational name – “the Campaign for a Better America” or some similar name that does not convey who is actually behind the ad. Clearly, given the acronym for the bill (Keeping Our Campaigns Honest Act or the “KOCH Act“), the sponsors have some particular targets in mind.
This issue came up at Congressional hearings on FCC reform with Chairman Wheeler yesterday. According to press reports, he was urged to move on this proposal through FCC action, even if Congress does not mandate such action through adoption of the Act. In fact, as we wrote here, the FCC has already been asked by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation to rule that this is currently required by FCC rules where the sponsoring organization has a single donor, or where one donor has contributed so much of the money to the organization that the organization is effectively the alter ego of the donor. This issue is not new legislatively, either, as Congress has considered bills in previous sessions, including the DISCLOSE Act (which we wrote about here and here). But these bills have never been adopted. All these bills have been a response to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see our article here about the impact of that case on FCC policies). These issues are sure to be debated more and more as parties and PACs gear up for the 2016 election and questions of influence over the campaign process become more and more part of the election narrative and debate. So watch where the FCC goes on this issue in the coming months.