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Where Do FCC Members Stand on Posting TV Stations’ Political Ad Data?

On April 27, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to require broadcast TV stations to post data online about who bought political spots they broadcast. Stations already collect the data and must make it publicly available, but they have resisted putting it online. Meantime, projects like ProPublica’s “Free the Files” are posting some data with volunteer help.

How might the FCC decision go?

The commission has five members, but two of the seats are vacant because President Obama’s nominees are stalled in the Senate. The three sitting commissioners declined to answer questions about the new disclosure rule, but their public statements suggest it may pass. Here’s a rundown:

Julius Genachowski

Julius Genachowski, Chairman

Democrat

Appointed: 2009

Likely Yes

In this Internet age, of course the public information in the "public file" kept by broadcasters should be online, not in filing cabinets.

At an event in Phoenix in October, 2011

We’re applying the common sense principles of moving information online to rules relating to television broadcasters... another important step in the Commission’s efforts to ensure effective public access to information.

Comments on the original proposal, October, 2011

Robert McDowell

Robert McDowell

Republican

Appointed: 2006, reappointed 2009

Likely No (in its current form)
Unlike other parts of the public inspection file, the contents of the political file do not speak to whether a broadcaster is serving its local community of license. The political file is a tool for examining transparency in campaign spending rather than broadcaster behavior…Congress should be aware that this requirement seems to be experiencing “mission creep” at the FCC.

Testimony to Congress, March, 2012

I must ask why the FCC is once again proposing to fix what appears to be a non- existent problem?... Before taking any further steps, the Commission should pause and think through not only the potential economic effects of its proposals, but the electoral and Constitutional consequences as well. After all, what’s the rush?

Speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, February, 2012

Are we once again heading down a path towards needlessly burdensome rules, regulatory overreach, Paperwork Reduction Act challenges and unconstitutional intrusions? Stay tuned.

Comments on the initial proposal, October, 2011

Mignon Clyburn

Mignon Clyburn

Democrat

Appointed: 2009

Likely Yes

A community’s desire to examine public files is only possible if they have realistic, meaningful access. I’ve seen such files. They reside deep within the broadcast station’s inner labyrinth, far from the reception area, in a vintage file cabinet with letters marked only in small font. I make light of this, to stress a point. Now is the time to move these ‘PUBLIC’ files out of cabinets and onto the web... Creating a meaningful way for the public to view these files with an online engagement is, to quote a popular commercial, ‘priceless.’

Comments on the initial proposal, October, 2011