Americans rely on their local TV stations for news. But at some of those stations, an examination by the Sunlight Foundation of newly accessible public records reveals, the management has been helping to cover the tracks of stealth committees that last year financed hundreds of millions of dollars in negative campaign ads.
We know this because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had enough guts and legal savvy to force broadcasters to put political ad records online in time for last year’s election. Sadly, the TV watchdogs don’t seem to have quite as much enthusiasm when it comes to enforcing the law that the FCC database shows many advertisers — and the broadcasters who are taking their money — to be systematically flouting.
The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act could not be more explicit: Any organization airing an ad about a political candidate or issue must provide the television station with “a list of the chief executive officers or member of the executive committee or of the board of directors,” the relevant section says. The TV stations, in turn, must make that information available for public inspection.