FCC Ruling Promises Easier Access to Campaign Ad Data

Posted on May 2, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

By Scott Orr

The Federal Communications Commission ruled last week that broadcasters must make available, via the Internet, detailed information about the ad buys of political campaigns.

This won’t have any major impact on campaigns or broadcast outlets, since the information already must be made public on request under existing rules. But making the data available online creates a new environment for campaign strategists and a playground for journalists who love to analyze campaign spending.

Currently anyone can get access to the data about how much each candidate spent on advertising with individual media outlets, but they must visit individual radio or television stations to view reports on paper.

Once the new rule takes effect, campaign finance advocacy groups like the Center for Responsive Politics should be able to provide much more detailed campaign advertising reports to show how ad money influenced the outcome of elections.

This is especially important today, when billions of dollars from so-called super PACS are being spent on behalf of presidential candidates for the first time. Super PACS, political action committees that can raise unlimited sums from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups, were made legal under a 2010 Supreme Court decision.

The ruling didn’t really attract a whole lot of interest among the political parties and candidates, though special interest groups and Super PACS would no doubt have preferred to keep the old system in place.

Still, the data could be used to analyze the spending strategies of candidates or interest groups. It could create a new parlor game for campaign finance nerds to try to analyze the significance of how much, where and when campaigns chose to advertise.

That there was little public outcry from political campaigns does not mean the decision lacked controversy though. The broadcasters fought it, arguing it would be costly and time-consuming to post the information online and that it could provide new insights for competitors.

At their annual trade show in Las Vegas recently, members of the National Association of Broadcasters got a stern talking to from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: “Some in the broadcast industry have elected to position themselves against technology, against transparency and against journalism,” said Genachowski.

The FCC did not set a deadline for launching the database, but it did say that for the next two years only the top four network affiliates in the top 50 markets will be required to post, with the rest of the stations given until July 1, 2014 to do so.

While we recognize the ruling isn’t going to have any early impact on the multibillion dollar business of campaign finance, we still believe it is good public policy. Average Americans are powerless to stop the influence of big money in politics, but at least they can find out how it’s spent.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at at www.turnergpa.com.

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