Journalism in the Public Interest

New Disclosure Rules for Political Ads Could Take Months

Under a new Federal Communications Commission rule, political ad data showing election spending could be posted online as early as July — or much later.


Crossroads GPS, an independent Republican group, has announced a $25 million ad buy.

After years of consideration, the Federal Communications Commission finally voted last month to require broadcasters to post online political ad data currently kept only on paper at the stations. Yet it’s unclear when the data — which will provide a detailed picture of campaign and super PAC ad spending — will actually begin to be posted.

The National Association of Broadcasters sued to stop the rule last week, asking a federal appeals court in Washington to declare the measure unlawful. But even if the lawsuit fails, the earliest broadcasters will have to begin submitting data to a new FCC website is July, three months after the FCC’s vote. And it could be delayed until later in the summer, into the fall, or beyond.

The reason for the slow rollout? A law called the Paperwork Reduction Act.

In effect, the delay in implementation means information on who is buying political ads, where, and for how much, will remain trapped in filing cabinets at TV stations through several crucial months of the presidential campaign (not to mention state and local campaigns).

While presidential campaigns traditionally take off after Labor Day, this year campaigns and their supporters are already spending big. This month the Obama campaign and the anti-Obama Crossroads GPS each announced $25-million ad buys.

As ProPublica reported, the FCC approved the rule April 27 in the face of intense opposition from the broadcast industry. The commission promised to create a website on which the affiliates of four major networks in the top 50 markets in the country would begin posting detailed information about political ad purchases. All stations will have to come into compliance with the rule in July 2014.

Here’s how the process works from here on out.

When the FCC approved the rule in April, it dictated that the measure would go into effect 30 days after approval by the Office of Management and Budget. OMB’s role is to determine whether the rule abides by the Paperwork Reduction Act, which first passed in 1980 and is intended to, yes, minimize paperwork, and improve the quality of information collected by the government.

OMB assesses whether the information that an agency is proposing to collect from the public is necessary, practically useful, and so on.

Before OMB begins to review a rule, it has to be listed in the Federal Register along with a request for comment by the FCC. That happened May 11, two weeks after the vote, triggering a 30-day period for public comment. After the end of the public comment period, the OMB has up to another 30 days to complete its review of the rule.

So if OMB takes the full 60 days after publication in the Federal Register to approve the rule, the political ad data would start appearing on an FCC website in another 30 days — August.

But the process can be delayed further if OMB raises concerns with the FCC about the rule, at which point the commission would then have to take time to formulate a response.

It’s rare for OMB to object to new rules on the grounds of the Paperwork Reduction Act, according to Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy at OMB Watch.

But back in March, the National Association of Broadcasters argued in one paragraph of a lengthy letter to the FCC that the proposed rule would run afoulof the Paperwork Reduction Act. The industry, which vigorously lobbied against the rule, could use the current public comment period before OMB to object to the rule on the basis of the law.

Interesting that the OMB has no problem with the information being collected where it can’t be easily reached, but needs to patiently review its centralization until it’s too late to be of any use for this election.

That time pressure angle brings up a new question:  What’s going on in this upcoming election that’s so terrifying to release?

That’s not rhetorical.  We’re already in a situation where it’s an article of faith that outspending on advertising wins an election and it’s legal to spend forever.  Neither candidate is considered particularly trustworth or even competant.

Fighting it, I can write off as dinosaur companies fighting any change that doesn’t immediately benefit them.  However, delaying it?  That smells like a dirty secret.  And given the part of the iceberg we can see, it must be big.

The US political system is now so corrupt it is ridiculed around the world.  Of course that’s not stopping many countries from emulating the same political dirty tricks.
We are slowly but surely moving toward a plutocracy with no middle class, only the rich and the 99% which are peasants will remain.

lawrence bell

May 30, 2012, 3:46 a.m.

The system is corrupt to the core and the OMB is merely an instrument of the all powerful Washington establishment…. just as the FCC changed the rules to enabled the media monopoly to take over our airways… so will the OMB give corporate lobbyists the cover they need to buy this election.

Yeah I can see the writing on the wall-The “Supreme Court of Corporate America” will undoubtedly rule against this and Health care-they are no longer serving the 99% of the People of the United States-only the 1% as the Walmart ruling proves-Corporations are people with un-limited $$$$ and people are-well I guess just Consumers with no power or rights…

Guess what?  Congress just attacked democracy again!  From ( I quote:

“A House Appropriations Subcommittee just voted on a measure to decrease transparency for political ads aired on local television stations.”

End quote.  It is pretty bad when the elected Representatives of democracy are so very much in the bag that they attack democracy from within.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Free the Files

Free the Files

Outside groups are spending hundreds of millions to influence the coming elections. Help unlock outside spending by "freeing" political ad buys from television stations in swing markets.

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