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In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (AKA McCain-Feingold) was passed with the support of both parties, and President George W. Bush signed it into law. This law requires individuals and organizations that purchase political commercial TV ads to provide identifying information for the TV stations’ public files. But frequently this identifying information is not provided, making it more difficult for voters to make informed voting decisions. TV stations are ignoring disclosure requirements, and allowing advertisers to play hide and seek with the information.

The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act states clearly that political advertisers must identify:

  • Their chief executive officer or board of directors (which helps identify the true agenda behind a vaguely-named group)
  • Any issue of national importance to which the ad refers
  • Any candidate to which an ad refers

Television stations, which receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from airing these ads, all too frequently don’t force advertisers to provide even this basic information.

Last  year the Sunlight Foundation created two important tools to help identify the growing amounts of political spending and influence that has evaded the Federal Election Commission’s rules. As described by Sunlight Foundation:

  • Ad Hawk is a mobile Sunlight app that allows users to identify groups behind political ads and to learn the names of their top donors. To create this tool, our developers scrape the online sites of candidates and politically active organizations to create a database of ads.
  • Political Ad Sleuth creates an easy-to-search feed of all of the political ad buys that the Federal Communications Commission currently requires broadcasters to post online. At the moment, only stations affiliated with the top four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) that are located in the nation’s 50 largest TV markets have to post political ad buys online. That unfortunately leaves a lot of territory uncovered — especially in a year when so many races that could determine control of Congress are occurring in states without top-50 markets, like Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana and West Virginia, to name a few.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, outside political groups organized themselves as “social welfare” non-profits so they would not be forced to disclose their leadership to the Federal Election Commission. Required disclosures at TV stations — required by McCain-Feingold — have become the only means of finding out who is behind “non-profit” groups with generic names, like those that pumped more than $300 million into the 2012 campaign. But the Federal Communications Commission, which is in charge of enforcing the law, so far has not taken action against stations that appear to have flouted it.



I retired from the University of Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology in 2010. I'm divorced, with two grown children and 8 grandchildren. I'm a lifelong liberal and a "nonbeliever."