Here’s some potentially good news. I wrote back in January about an FCC proposed rule that would force local TV stations to put the results of the political ad spending on their airwaves online, rather than in an obscure filing room at the station that few people ever see. This would increase the transparency of political spending, which now relies on just a few reports by independent watchdogs and self-reporting from campaigns. Under this new standard, anyone could look up on the Internet the mass of ad spending. It obviously wouldn’t discourage the spending itself, but it would provide better real-time tracking of the purchase of democracy.
Looks like the FCC will go for it, despite negative reaction from local TV station owners, who presumably don’t want the additional expense.
The government is moving forward with a plan to make local television stations post information about political advertising on a central Web site.
Owners of local stations have tried to block the proposal, but it appears likely to be approved by the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission when they convene later this month [...]
In comments before the agency in January, a broadcaster trade group asserted that the required uploading would be an unnecessary financial burden for local stations and would have “no clear public benefit.”
The clear public benefits, according to advocates of the proposal, are easier access to public information and added transparency about the political ads that frequently dominate the public airwaves during campaigns. The files identify the buyers of political ads and the prices paid for them.
Local TV stations benefited heavily from the Citizens United case and other relaxations of campaign finance laws. Much of the money sloshing around elections gets poured into local TV ad buys. The least that the stations can do with this windfall is set up a website and hire one person to upload the spending statistics to it on a timely basis, in the public interest. And the FCC released analysis showing that this would cost under $1,000 for the average station to start up, hardly a burdensome expense. Over time, moving to digital storage of these files would actually save money.
The FCC’s meeting takes place April 27. While smaller stations would have two years to comply, the affiliates of the big four broadcasters would need to deliver the spending analysis immediately. So this would be in place in most cases for the 2012 elections.
However, the FCC needs to be pushed further. The files would not be searchable in total, only inside each file. Additional databasing would need to allow for full searches across files and across the country, which would take quite a bit of time to manage. But crowd sourcing could take care of this problem, especially if some campaign finance group puts money behind it.