Journalism in the Public Interest

Republicans Back Down On Effort to Defund Transparency Rule

A House committee drops legislation that would have blocked an FCC rule to put political ad data online.


Ranking Member Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee today dropped an effort to defund a new Federal Communications Commission rule that will make political ad data available on the Internet.

The FCC rule, which was OKed by the commission earlier this year and is expected to go into effect sometime this summer or fall, would require TV stations to put detailed records on political ad buys on a new Web site. The files are currently public but are kept on paper at stations.

The broadcast industry has vigorously fought the rule. Earlier this month Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., chair of an appropriations subcommittee, added an amendment to a bill that would have blocked the FCC from using any funds to implement the transparency measure. The defunding amendment passed the subcommittee on a party-line vote.

The maneuver to defund the transparency rule attracted media attention and sparked outrage from outside public interest groups and Democrats.

But in a full committee hearing this morning, the Republicans backed down. Emerson offered a new amendment that removed the defunding language.

Under the revised bill, which passed the committee on a voice vote with bipartisan support, the General Accountability Office will simply conduct a study of the effect of the political ad rule on the TV ad sales market. The GAO will also look at the costs to broadcasters of putting political ad files online, which media companies have argued would costly.

The amendment requires the FCC to report to the committee on its response to the GAO study, which is due by July 2013.

Broadcasters are still fighting the FCC rule, which will not go into effect until the completion of a government review. The companies have sued in federal court to block the rule and also filed an appeal at the FCC.

Emerson, the subcommittee chair, did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

A Democratic aide on the Appropriations committee aide told ProPublica that the increasing attention on campaign finance after Citizens United made it difficult for Republicans to oppose the FCC’s transparency rule.  

“The backstory is that the majority thought they would slip this language in and no one would make a ruckus over it,” the aide said. “I don’t think the staff quite realized what they were getting into.”

Seems like a bit of a smokescreen, to me.  By backing off of a worthless proposition (how much could it possibly cost to enact this rule?), they’ve now delayed it, and now it goes to review.

Wanna bet that it doesn’t go into effect until Election Day 2012?

And then, there’s the GAO time bomb, implying that the law is somehow responsible for preserving the media’s profit margins.  So, they’ll report lower sales and have it thrown out before the 2014 cycle.

Which brings me back to my question from a few weeks ago:  With all the work going into suppressing the data, what are they planning to need to hide?

Small donors donate because they believe in something.

Big and Huge and Humungous Donors donate to politicians because they expect a RETURN ON THEIR INVESTMENTS. 

That’s why we need to know who the Big and Larger Donors are and what they demand from the POLITICIANS THEY OWN.

Stephanie Palmer

June 20, 2012, 6:05 p.m.

Gee, don’t you wonder why JoAnn Emerson wants the information kept private?  She may not be transparent, but it’s transparent that there’s money here.

Timothy McKeever

June 20, 2012, 8:16 p.m.

We will never have a true democracy until transparency in every thing becomes the default response. Right now the tendency is to obfuscate with back room parlimentary tricks. It is the modus operandi of the GOP.

It is the operating model of BOTH parties


June 21, 2012, 10:56 a.m.

He took 1800 budget to 3500—debt 5700 to 11,900—surplus to 1400 deficit—237,000 jobs per month to 31,000—two wars—smashed housing-smashed financials-great recession

Show a worse record.

Fernando Cabrera

July 15, 2012, 9:06 p.m.

Republicans tried it; but after thinking twice they realize that it will work against them after the public begins to think what they had to hide.

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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