By NEWTON MINOW and HENRY GELLER
A House appropriations subcommittee last week prohibited the Federal Communications Commission from doing its job.
The FCC, by law, has long required broadcasters to maintain at the station public files about all political ads sold — including information about the names of sponsors or names of executives or board of directors of sponsoring entities, the amount paid and the time slot. The FCC, finally recognizing the 21st century, ordered in late April that major TV stations in large markets had to make this information available on the Internet — so the public has ready access.
The National Association of Broadcasters, however, opposes this crucial advance. The group has already taken its case to the courts and to Congress — as is its right. The broadcasters’ argument is that posting this information online is too burdensome and that it applies only to major television stations, omitting cable stations.
Perhaps these broadcasters — and the House subcommittee members — have not read the Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United.
“With the advent of the Internet,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide stockholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. … Citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called money interests … and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”
Kennedy was right about the Internet — and the House subcommittee is wrong.
This election campaign has been extraordinary. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by groups outside the political parties — groups with names like American Future Fund or Americans for Prosperity or Crossroads GPS — with no disclosure of their donors.