Andrew Schwartzman, policy director for the Media Access Project, a consumer advocacy group, filed a petition with the agency this week arguing that it should force political groups to disclose information about their top donors when they run political ads.
In fact, Schwartzman asserts, the FCC has had the power to do so for decades.
Under current regulations, some of which date to the 1940s, the FCC requires disclosure only for the group claiming responsibility for the ad, no matter how the group paid for it.
But Schwartzman says the Communications Act of 1934 and subsequent legislation calls for a much broader standard: disclosure of those actually paying for the message.
The petition asks that the FCC revise its rules to require groups to disclose financial backers who contribute more than 10 percent of the groups’ budget, in public documents filed with broadcast stations.
The proposal would also require on-air disclosures for donors who provide more than a quarter of a television commercial’s budget or more than a third of the cost of a radio commercial.
“The statutory objective of informing the electorate about who is the ‘true’ sponsor of political messages is not being met,” Schwartzman wrote in the media project’s petition. He added: “Existing campaign finance and IRS regulations allow organizations which are often hollow shells for one or a few organizations or individuals to purchase commercials without identifying the source of their funding.”
The petition is the latest volley in the ongoing battle over campaign finance regulations following last year’s decision in
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
, which allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on elections. The White House and congressional Democrats responded with legislation that would impose greater disclosure requirements, but Senate Republicans blocked the measure.
Needless to say, many conservatives don’t like the idea of forcing more disclosure through FCC regulations, either. The Center for Competitive Politics, which has supported the Citizens United case and other challenges to federal campaign-finance law, said the proposal was an attempt to impose “onerous” political restrictions through the “back door” at the FCC.
“The rule is completely unworkable and would provide voters with clutter at best and misinformation at worst,” said Allison Hayward, the group’s vice president of policy. “The FCC should reject this proposal for junk disclosure.”
Although the courts and Congress have not been kind to campaign finance rules lately, the FCC may be more promising for pro-regulation groups. The commission is split 3 to 2 in favor of Democrats, including Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has close ties to President Obama.