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Election 2012

Public Interest Groups Prepare to Review TV Political Ad Files

Spending info goes online today

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Public interest groups are practically salivating that starting today TV stations must begin posting online political disclosure files containing information about who is spending what in the 2012 election. And they're organizing to take full advantage of the more easily available information.

Since Citizens United, groups like Free Press have been apoplectic about the onslaught of Super PACs flooding the airwaves during the leadup to the November election, pushing political spending to new records. Now, with 95 days before the country heads to the polls, advocates for more transparency in political spending are taking some comfort in the Federal Communications Commission's new rule, which takes effect Aug. 2.

"Victory!" declared Free Press, which was among the groups pushing the FCC to pass the rule. "Today's the day we get our first glimpse into the deep, dark pockets of major network TV broadcasters all across the nation … and not a minute too soon," wrote FP staffer Molly Buckley in a blog post

But don't get too excited. The files that will be available will be in PDF form, meaning it will take a lot of work to make some real sense of the spending. Plus, for starters, the FCC is only requiring the four network TV affiliates in the top 50 markets to post. That means no files for Hispanic stations, which in markets such as Los Angeles and Phoenix the Spanish-language newscast is top rated. And ads placed prior to Aug. 2 don't have to be posted.

So drawing any major conclusions from the hundreds of files won't be easy. Sunlight Foundation, which also declared victory, is working with FP and others on something it calls "Political Ad Sleuth" to create "an easy-to-use, searchable and sortable online database on political TV buys" of both the FCC's files and others that aren't on the website. They're looking for volunteers.

Interested in TV station political files? Go to the FCC's  website to search by TV station using station call letters, channel number or network affiliation.