Eight Democratic senators are urging the Federal Communications Commission to approve a rule that would make real-time information about the purchase of broadcast political ads available to the public.
Super PACs and secretive nonprofit groups are expected to saturate the airwaves, especially in swing states, as the 2012 election approaches. The proposed FCC rule would make it easy for the public to learn which groups are buying political ads, how many they bought, and for how much.
With so many other moves to increase transparency in political spending stymied by gridlock in Congress and at the Federal Election Commission, the FCC rule is seen as one of the few reform measures that could take effect before the 2012 election is over.
The proposed rule would require broadcast stations to make their "political files" available on the FCC's website. These files, which include considerable information on campaign ads, are currently stored locally in paper form.
"With the 2012 election season already underway, citizens have a right to know who is purchasing public airtime to support or oppose candidates," said a letter sent to the FCC on Tuesday and signed by Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Al Franken (Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Tom Udall (N.M.).
"The online posting of information in broadcast stations' political file cannot wait until months after the election; citizens deserve to know who is responsible for funding these advertisements today," the letter said.
Broadcasters are balking at the proposed requirement, arguing that compliance would be expensive.
One thing the rule wouldn't require is better identification of which big donors are actually behind secretive groups with generic names. And it wouldn't mandate additional information in the ads themselves.