FCC to Vote on Moving TV Political Ad Files Online

Move could put broadcast stations at competitive disadvantage

Ever since the 2010 Citizens United case opened the gate for political action committees to raise money for candidates, Democrats have been pushing for more disclosures around political advertising. So it makes sense that during an election year, a Democrat-controlled Federal Communications Commission would schedule a vote over an order that calls for TV stations to move public files online, including political disclosure reports.

The FCC is moving the politically charged item just as TV stations are getting ready to air more than $3 billion in political advertising in what is likely to be one of the most expensive elections ever.

Details of the specific edict won't be released until April 27 during the FCC's monthly meeting, but the order is expected to start with network affiliates in the top 50 markets this year; most other stations will not have to send their political files to the FCC for two years.

While broadcast stations have not expressed opposition to moving the public files online, they take issue with moving the political disclosure files online because those reveal the ad rates charged and the name of the person or group placing the ad. This puts stations at a competitive disadvantage with other media outlets, like cable or radio, that are also vying for political advertising.

The Democratic-controlled commission, led by President Obama's Harvard Law School classmate, Julius Genachowski, is likely to vote in favor of the order, which will begin requiring stations to move the files online just as the election heats up.

Currently anyone who wants to access a broadcast station's public file must make a trip to the local station and view the paper files stored in filing cabinets. In its agenda, released Friday evening, the FCC billed the item as a report and order aimed at increasing "transparency" and "improving public access to community-relevant information."

The House GOP has already taken issue with Genachowski over the move, criticizing it as more political than practical. During a hearing before a House Appropriations Subcommittee, Robert McDowell, the sole Republican on the FCC, characterized the proposal to move political files online as FCC "mission creep."