Journalism in the Public Interest

Republicans Vote to Block Transparency on Political Ads

Language in appropriations bill would block funding for an FCC rule to put political ad data online.


Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., inserted language into an appropriations bill ordering that no funds be used to implement a new rule to post political ad information online. (Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

The opponents of a new rule to post political ad information online have opened up another front in a long-running fight, inserting language into an appropriations bill that would bar the Federal Communications Commission from implementing the transparency measure.

The FCC voted in April to require television stations to put detailed data on political ad purchases online. The information, which includes who buys ads, for how much, and when they run, is currently open to the public but is available only on paper at individual stations. Media companies have lobbied hard against the rule, and the National Association of Broadcasters recently sued in federal court to stop it. The rule is currently under review by the government and will not go into effect until July at the earliest.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., chair of the financial services and general government subcommittee of the House appropriations committee, added language to an appropriations bill ordering that no funds to be used to implement the disclosure rule. The bill, which passed the subcommittee Wednesday, funds the FCC and other agencies for fiscal year 2013.

The move by Emerson adds another question mark to the process of creating an FCC website with political ad data. At a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, a Democratic amendment to remove the Emerson language was defeated on a party line vote.

"I suspect there will be a big fight in committee and on the floor," Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., who led the Democratic effort to defeat the language, told ProPublica.

He added that Democrats will try again to strip the Emerson language when the full appropriations committee considers the bill, which may happen in the next couple weeks.

"When there's a campaign going on with the kind of money that is being spent today," Serrano said, "you as a citizen should have the right to know who is paying [for ads]."

Even if the measure to block the FCC from funding the political ad rule passes the House, it still has to get through the Democrat-controlled Senate and be signed by President Obama, whose administration has supported the transparency rule.

A spokesperson for Emerson did not respond to a request for comment. At a hearing in March, Emerson grilled FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski about the then-proposal.

"Why do you care about this?" the congresswoman asked Genachowski. "You have plenty of other things that are far more important to deal with since we already have a Federal Election Commission who has jurisdiction over campaign finance. ... Why in the world is this a big priority?"

At the hearing Wednesday, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, joined other Republicans in arguing that the new rule would be overly burdensome for stations.

Since 2010, the National Association of Broadcasters Political Action Committee has donated $7,000 to Emerson's campaigns. Emerson's home state of Missouri is expected to be a swing state in 2012, meaning it will see a huge infusion of political ad spending.

Both the broadcasters association and the FCC declined to comment on the new appropriations language.

I’m just absolutely sure that not funding this website will not only save the budget, but will gut the ruling.

I mean, it’s not like the government is already spending millions maintaining public servers where this information would barely represent noise in the cost.  What’s that?  That’s actually the situation?

I don’t know.  I’d be willing to chip in a few bucks a month to cover the shortfall…

Republicans Vote to Block Transparency on Political Ads isn’t that a little mis-leading. It’s the media companies that are blocking the implementation. Did the reporter ask how many democrats would support the FCC transparency rule. I doubt it,this reporter has agenda and instead of writing editorial he tries to mask his views in his idea of unbaised news story.The title should be “I am Democrat Justin Speaks Out”

@Ken—this was a party line vote in the appropriations subcommittee. 8 Republicans voted to block funding and 4 Democrats voted to restore it for this political ad measure. Several Republican senators also came out against the measure earlier this year—I’m not aware of any Republicans who publicly support it.
You’re correct that media companies have also opposed the rule.

Just saw on TRM that Pro Publica is going to work on collecting and posting this Political ad donor information on their web pages. They are also looking for volunteers who can go to their local Tv and radio stations to request and gather this data. We all should thank Pro Publica for undertaking this and give them our support. It’s a way that we the people can expose the big money special interests like ALEC, Crossroads GPS and all the many right wing super PACs. 

thanks ProPublica!!!

Disclosure first:  I’m Australian, so not directly affected by this.  But I’m affected indirectly, as is most of the world, when transparency is trampled in a democracy.

Why is it so difficult for these companies to put online information that would already be held electronically?  It should be easier to publish the data electronically than to have people turn up on your doorstep asking to make photocopies.  Unless nobody’s turning up on your doorstep, which is why Propublica’s campaign needs to continue.

I cannot see any reason, other than their own political noses, why broadcasters are so concerned about publishing this information.  That reason in itself gives enough concern to want to know why they are so worried.

As a separate issue:  I’d hate to be administering US federal laws.  Instead of having a bill that relates to a single issue, there seem to be insertions, adjustments, clauses that have nothing directly to do with the legislation at hand.  This is one of the milder cases I’ve heard of, but just keeping track of it all must be a nightmare for some busy people in Washington.

Domenic Corsaro

June 7, 2012, 11:37 p.m.

Our nation is teetering on division and disillusion It is sad that 50% of us think one way; and 50% of us think another. It doesn’t matter which 50% I belong to. The outcome will be the same. Either we settle these difference via compromise in Congress or we settle them in the madness of streets. No one can tell what the Tinder Box will be. If in the streets, it will not be nice ~ an incidental “incident” will lead to mobs. The Houses of Congress will become the target. Kristalnacht will be ours. We will ask ourselves if the Tea Party or the Progressive Left-Wing Nuts are to blame ~ for their extremeist views. Or whether the “Conservatives” or Democrats are. It will not matter. It will be too late to fix it. The genie will be “out of the bottle.” We will have unleashed The Devil into our political discourse, and the USA will never be the same again. I hope and pray that this “disillusion” does not happen, but history does not lie. The past is fixed. It is there for all of us to see ~ and to study ~ and to learn from, if we have the courage and the intelligence to say, “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing Santayana ~ but the point it well taken. Ciao.

@Domenic, the US thinks of itself as having a left/right division.  The rest of the world looks on and sees a right/way-further-right division.

Just an observation.

And yes, it seems like politicians are incredibly good at forgetting the past.

Richard Wm. Narlian

June 8, 2012, 1:23 a.m.

I dabbled in broadcasting for a short while,
I cannot thinkof ANY station,radio/television that is owned bye a Democrat.
Yet we here all of these tight assed Republickers are screaming about
the Liberal Media.

Stephen, the claim is that (a) it’s crippling effort to the industry to mail a monthly spreadsheet that they already maintain and (b) publishing the data makes it impossible to lie to people who would like to advertise.  Oh, and (c) the information is so utterly boring that nobody should have access to it.  I guess it’s a Lovecraftian thing, where you look upon it and then, like, start collecting Pokemon cards or carving mountains out of your mashed potatoes.

Does a Broadcaster have a responsibility as to the truthfulness and accuracy of a political ad that is aired on their station? If they know an ad is inaccurate or even an outright lie and the broadcaster airs it anyway can they be sanctioned by the FCC?

If there was transparency how could the GOP successfully
pander to all groups equally. The truth should be the ultimate goal, but like Romney said all he want’s is 51% no matter what it takes….

so typical of commiepublicans to do this

David Huntsman

June 20, 2012, 8:50 p.m.

The problem with compromise Domenic, is the nature of the compromise. If your viewpoint is based on the constitution, which is a ‘fixed’ point and standard, then any compromise is moving away from the original goal of preserving the founding ideas and structure. So in essence, every compromise is a loss for one viewpoint and a win for the other. As these compromises are cumulated, you are constantly moving away from your goal and those who oppose your philosophy are constanty moving closer to theirs. I say this because very few of the arguments are truelly over interpretation of the founding documents. Most of the critical arguments are over whether or not to change them. If you do not believe the founding documents should be changed outside of the methods of change set forth in those documents, see ‘amendments’, then every compromise is a stab to the heart of the country that we love.

The founding documents were not perfect, and the framers new that to be the case, but that is why there is a fixed method of amendments. Amendments that are made by the people’s dually elected representatives, not by buerocratic agencies, rouge judges or courts writing law instead of interpretting it, presidential dictates.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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