Late Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued an order (at this time available in Word format only, here) clarifying its public file rules for political ads – both ads from candidates and from third-party groups.  The FCC’s clarifications require broadcasters who run candidate or issue advertising to include information about not only the candidates mentioned in an ad, but also any Federal issues that the ad addresses.  On sponsorship identification, the FCC focused on third-party ads, requiring that broadcasters make an inquiry as to the complete set of executive officers or the complete board of directors of any sponsor.  The FCC went on to admonish a number of stations for violating the rules but, as the rules were just clarified, only admonished these stations rather than issuing any fines. This decision was in response to complaints filed by the Campaign Legal Center and the Sunlight Foundation alleging the public file omissions of these stations – complaints that we wrote about here.

The FCC’s order interprets Section 315(e) of the Communications Act, which sets the rules for the disclosures required for political ads.  Under that Section, any political ad that deals with a legally qualified candidate, an election for a Federal office, or with any political issue of national importance, must disclose a variety of information.  That information requires that, in connection with any request for political time, the station must disclose in its public file (1) whether or not the request was accepted, (2) the class of time purchased, (3) the price at which it was sold, (4) the name of the candidate that the ad addresses or the election to which it is directed or the issue discussed, (5) if the ad was bought by a candidate’s authorized committee, the name of the committee and its treasurer, and (6) if the ad was not placed by a candidate’s committee, the name of the sponsor and, where the sponsor is not an individual, the name of the sponsor’s chief executive officers or its executive committee or its board of directors, plus the name, phone number and address of a contact person at the committee.  These requirements were clarified in several respects by the FCC’s order.
Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Public File Obligations for Identifying Issues and Sponsors for Political Ads – Admonishes Numerous TV Stations for Violations

The Sunlight Foundation, along with Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center, have filed with the FCC complaints against 18 TV stations claiming that these stations violated the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules by not identifying former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg as the true sponsor of issue ads bought by the Independence USA political action committee.  The complaint (available on the Foundation’s website as part of a press release on the action) alleges that stations have an obligation to look behind the named organizational sponsor to identify Mr. Bloomberg as the true sponsor of these ads, as he has provided all of the organization’s funding and directs its actions.  These same organizations filed a similar set of complaints last year, some also targeting Mr. Bloomberg and the PAC with which he is associated, complaints which, for the most part, remain pending at the FCC (see our article here).

These complaints are very similar to the ones filed in 2014, arguing that where a PAC is 100% financed by a single individual, the individual should be identified on the air as the sponsor, not the PAC itself.  The petitioners claim that, by not identifying Mr. Bloomberg as the true sponsor, the public is deceived as to who is behind the ads.  This is despite the fact that, in the required sponsorship disclosure statements filed in the stations’ public files, Mr. Bloomberg is identified, as required by the rules, as the Chairman of the PAC and as one of its two officers.  Apparently, this required disclosure is deemed insufficient by these groups.  But what will the FCC think?
Continue Reading More Complaints Filed Against TV Stations for Allegedly Not Disclosing the True Sponsor of PAC Ad on Political Issues