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Democrats say FCC should unmask identity of political ad backers

Democrats say FCC should unmask identity of political ad backers

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nancy pelosi (flickr)
nancy pelosi (flickr)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other prominent Democrats are urging the FCC to play a greater role in exposing the anonymous donors behind political campaign TV ads. As the Hill reports, Pelosi and fellow Democratic Representatives Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo argue that the FCC already has the power to order super PACs and other advocacy groups to reveal the identities of their donors, citing a little-known provision in current regulations.

The crux of Pelosi's argument rests upon the so-called "true sponsor" rule — an FCC regulation that requires broadcasters and cable providers to identify the individuals or entities behind all TV commercials, including political ads. According to leading Democrats, this rarely-enforced regulation means that the super PACs behind campaign ads should be required to disclose the names of their major donors, rather than just the name of their organization.

"The FCC must simply update its rules to reflect the law."

"The FCC must simply update its rules to reflect the law, ensuring disclosure in our elections, transparency in our campaigns, and fairness for all voters," Pelosi said in a statement released Thursday. Waxman added that American voters and TV audiences "deserve to know when and by whom they are being persuaded — and it is the FCC’s job to ensure that they do."

Democratic calls for reform come on the heels of a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), released last week. The report, commissioned by the trio of Democrats, provided an historical overview of the FCC's role in identifying commercial sponsors, and called for the Commission to provide clearer guidelines for broadcasters.

FCC remains reluctant

Pelosi hailed the study as evidence that the FCC has "the power, the authority, and the responsibility" to unmask the identity of campaign ad donors, though the Commission seems reluctant to adjust its policy. "The report does not recommend that we change our rules relating to the sponsors of ads," an FCC spokesman said last week. Even the GAO itself has declined to say whether the FCC has the legal power or responsibility to identify campaign ad sponsors. Currently, campaign ad regulations are managed and enforced by the Federal Election Commission.

"The report mainly talked about how to clarify the regulations and how to ensure the investigations are handled more timely," GAO researcher Mark Goldstein told the Hill. "We provided a broad discussion of what the sponsor-identification statutes and regulations are, principally of how they are overseen by the FCC."