TV Networks Sued For Hiding Who's Buying Political Ads

from the a-little-sunlight,-please dept

The money in politics issue is one that gets a lot of attention and the good folks over at the Sunlight Foundation have been trying to help provide much more transparency for years. And now they’re bringing out the lawyers. Teaming up with the Campaign Legal Center and represented by Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation, the Sunlight Foundation has filed complaints against 11 TV stations for blatantly violating the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which requires networks disclose who is actually buying political ads on TV.

Political nonprofits, which often come with singularly uninformative names like “American Action Network” or “Patriot Majority USA,” are not required to disclose much of their spending — or any of their donors — to the FEC. But there is one place where they do have to leave a paper trail: the TV stations where they buy ads. That’s why we put our focus there.

Just one problem: a bunch of TV networks have basically done everything possible to avoid complying. Even though courts have said that the major TV stations need to post very specific information online, many simply don’t include the necessary (and required) information.

Why is it important? Because “Americans for Better Apple Pie” might be your local slag heap operator. “Citizens for a Conservative GOP” might be Democrats trying to sabotage the primary contender that they think has the best chance of beating their candidate in the general. These are not far-fetched scenarios. Take a look at this ad, which doesn’t anywhere mention toxic materials, but which paint an indubitably positive picture of the chairman of the House committee that’s now working on a rewrite of the government law on toxic waste. Unless you are looking carefully at your TV screen at just the right time, you’d miss the fact that these ads are brought to you by the American Chemistry Council — an organization that is lobbying on the bill in question. Without the online TV ad files, you’d never know that the American Chemistry Council spent some $250,000 airing the ad.

Hopefully the FCC actually does something and makes these networks obey the law.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: sunlight foundation

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “TV Networks Sued For Hiding Who's Buying Political Ads”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment

“Hopefully the FCC actually does something and makes these networks obey the law.”
I laughed.

Seriously, if the FCC can’t even fine a network for “obscenity” as outlined by its “laws”, does anyone here truly think the FCC has any power to regulate at all?

They’re a worthless waste of taxpayer money.

When the FCC can regulate anything, please highlight this article in all bold, blue, and title it “The End Is Nigh: The FCC Wins One Finally!”



Try exercising your natural right to broadcast over corporate controlled spectra and you’ll see how fast the FCC police come down on you with SWAT team like armament.

Try to even record broadcast television and radio and redistribute it to others and the corporate legal system will come down on you so hard you won’t even know what happened.

The FCC has always existed for the sole purpose of limiting competition and serving the interests of a few monopolists. Consumer protection is just a pretext. Don’t fool yourself.


Re: Re:

Heck, try even building your own cableco/telco/internet infrastructure and you’ll quickly learn how much the incumbents control the legal system and what they can do to prevent it.

Government exists to limit competition and make everything more expensive for you. This is the exact opposite of free market capitalism.

Anon E. Moussays:

The T.V. networks aren’t worries about the courts or the FCC.
they are not going to do anything that would jeopardize a major cash cow for them.

Look at Kevin Trudeau, the FCC banned him from running any infomercials. Did the Networks fear the FCC coming after them when Trudeau started popping up as a so called “guest” on infomercials being interviewed for his latest book? Hell no!

Trudeau bought a ton of late night ad spots from the Networks, and all the Networks were happy to take his money even though they knew of Trudeau’s FCC ban.

So don’t expect the networks to do something that would risk millions of dollars they make from the political ad groups.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Money talks.

No one has the will to make them live up to the rules, because they like how things are happening.
The public assumes because there is a rule/law there is no problem and blissfully wander along expecting someone else to deal with it if there is a problem.

The commercials don’t have to be factual.
The commercials generate income to the media who should be investigating the claims.
The commercials elect people who remember all the ‘little people’ who got them into office with laws and policies that benefit the donors over the people.

One would hope one of these days the people might actually stop and consider there MIGHT be a connection between commercials to reelect someone who then use the law to protect the company that paid for commercials to put him back in office.

Quid pro quo at the expense of everything else, lets hope we decide to do something about this before people start dropping like flies because the law no longer required any safety checks.


Hopefully the FCC actually does something and makes these networks obey the law.

I will exercise my artistic self by imagining the scene:

FCC: So you broke the law.
FCC: That’s a no go, we’ll have to take the appropriate measures.
GUILTY TV: waves money in front of the right persons
FCC: Aww silly, don’t do it again oki doki? gives the tv a very soft and gentle wrist slap

kenichi tanakasays:

Seriously? The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which requires networks disclose who is actually buying political ads on TV. That would defeat the purpose of the Citizen’s United ruling.

I guess these idiots that filed this lawsuit plum-dumb forgot that “the Supreme Court overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns”.

TV Networks are not obligated to report who advertised what and until the Supreme Court decision is overturned by the Supreme Court itself, this lawsuit won’t go anywhere.

Rocco Magliosays:

Re: Re:

What do you mean by paid political advertising. Can NBC do a one sided Obama interview? They are controlled by NBC which has a couple of merges they are trying to push through. Is that a political ad? If you limit paid political advertising you are then saying the only people allowed speech on candidates is the news media. Get ready for some pro media laws.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re: Re:

The first step is to ban all paid political advertising. Meaning just that: paid political advertising. One-sided interviews, etc., would not be banned.

The purpose of the ban is to get rid of the need for candidates to raise the insane amounts of money they need to raise in order to run a successful campaign — which is pretty much all about fund to buy TV ads.

The point you raise is a valid one, but addresses a slightly different problem, and requires a different solution.

“If you limit paid political advertising you are then saying the only people allowed speech on candidates is the news media.”

I don’t buy this at all, actually, but even if it’s true — it’s not much different than what exists right now.

Coyne Tibbetssays:

Great, we'll finally learn...NOTHING

Like this will do a lot of good: If they win, we’ll all get to easily read the name of the PAC that bought that advertisement. Which we can see right now, with a DVR and a magnifying glass. (The DVR to stop motion during the half-second the message is displayed and the magnifying glass to help us read the Flyspeck 4-point font.)

Then all we’ll need is a psychic to learn who financed the PAC. And since that doesn’t work very well, all we’ll learn is that the advertisement was paid for by “The We for Us Political Action Committee” or some other equally pithy thing.

In other words, if they win these lawsuits, we will still know NOTHING.

Might as well be Sgt. Schultz.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
13:40 It's Great That Winnie The Pooh Is In The Public Domain; But He Should Have Been Free In 1982 (Or Earlier) (35)
12:06 Norton 360 Now Comes With Crypto Mining Capabilities And Sketchy Removal Process (28)
10:45 Chinese Government Dragnet Now Folding In American Social Media Platforms To Silence Dissent (14)
10:40 Daily Deal: The 2022 Ultimate Cybersecurity Analyst Preparation Bundle (0)
09:29 A Fight Between Facebook And The British Medical Journal Highlights The Difficulty Of Moderating 'Medical Misinformation' (9)
06:29 Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi (4)
20:12 Eighth Circuit (Again) Says There's Nothing Wrong With Detaining Innocent Minors At Gunpoint (15)
15:48 China's Regulatory War On Its Gaming Industry Racks Up 14k Casualties (10)
13:31 Chinese Government Fines Local Car Dealerships For Surveilling While Not Being The Government (5)
12:08 Eric Clapton Pretends To Regret The Decision To Sue Random German Woman Who Listed A Bootleg Of One Of His CDs On Ebay (29)
10:44 ICE Is So Toxic That The DHS's Investigative Wing Is Asking To Be Completely Separated From It (29)
10:39 Daily Deal: The 2022 Complete Raspberry Pi And Arduino Developer Bundle (0)
09:31 Google Blocked An Article About Police From The Intercept... Because The Title Included A Phrase That Was Also A Movie Title (24)
06:22 Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns (16)
19:53 Tenth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity To Social Worker Who Fabricated A Mother's Confession Of Child Abuse (35)
15:39 Sci-Hub's Creator Thinks Academic Publishers, Not Her Site, Are The Real Threat To Science, And Says: 'Any Law Against Knowledge Is Fundamentally Unjust' (34)
13:32 Federal Court Tells Proud Boys Defendants That Raiding The Capitol Building Isn't Covered By The First Amendment (25)
12:14 US Courts Realizing They Have A Judge Alan Albright Sized Problem In Waco (17)
10:44 Boston Police Department Used Forfeiture Funds To Hide Purchase Of Surveillance Tech From City Reps (16)
10:39 Daily Deal: The Ultimate Microsoft Excel Training Bundle (0)
09:20 NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas (25)
06:12 Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests (7)
12:00 Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of 2021 At Techdirt (17)
10:00 Gaming Like It's 1926: Join The Fourth Annual Public Domain Game Jam (6)
09:00 New Year's Message: The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is A Twisty Path (33)
19:39 DHS, ICE Begin Body Camera Pilot Program With Surprisingly Good Policies In Place (7)
15:29 Remembering Techdirt Contributors Sherwin And Elliot (1)
13:32 DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back (6)
12:11 Missouri Governor Still Expects Journalists To Be Prosecuted For Showing How His Admin Leaked Teacher Social Security Numbers (39)
10:48 Oversight Board Overturning Instagram Takedown Of Ayahuasca Post Demonstrates The Impossibility Of Content Moderation (10)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it