In the wake of two remarkably dubious Supreme Court decisions, Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC, previous limits on campaign finance in place for decades were swept aside to allow virtually unlimited spending by corporations, political action committees and very wealthy individuals on election campaigns at every level.
Leaving aside the questionable logic of these decisions, recently argued by E. J. Dionne, Jr. and Robert J. Samuelson, among others, there is a real need for citizens to demand greater transparency in identifying the monied interests now flooding the airwaves with one-sided and often misleading political ads.
Fortunately a law exists which requires the identification of all sponsors of commercial and political ads broadcast on radio and TV, the Communications Act of 1934. Section 317 of that law spelling this out is here. But like many laws and regulations intended to protect the public interest, lack of strict enforcement allows obfuscation of who is really paying for such ads.
Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps, Special Advisor to the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause has been making the case here, here, and here that citizens urge the FCC to use the long standing authority Congress gave them to demand greater disclosure of who funds the innocuous sounding groups responsible for the growing flood of political ads.
The names of these groups are usually more familiar than their political orientation, such as Americans For Prosperity, Priorities USA Action, Restore Our Future, Majority PAC, Freedomworks for America, Independence USA PAC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, among many. Most express a general sense, as one reformer put it, of “citizens for everything good since the beginning of time.”
With the floodgates on political ads now thrown open, it is imperative citizens have a clearer sense of where the funds for these groups are coming from. A simple rule change by the FCC requiring more specific disclosure of who is paying for these ads could be accomplished in a matter of months if enough citizens demanded it.
The Media Stewards Project strongly supports a nationwide campaign, under the banner Citizens For 317, to raise awareness of this practical remedy for greater clarity in the realm of political advertising and encourage people to contact the FCC about implementing the necessary rule change. Read and sign the Common Cause form advocating this action. For more information on political advertising, see this brief by the Campaign Legal Center.