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Who's Buying Your Election? New FCC Ruling Requires Broadcasters to Post Data On Ad Purchases

A new ruling by the FCC requires broadcasters to post political advertisement data online, making it easier for the public to see who is buying those ads.
 
 
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 During this year’s election, political analysts estimate as much as $5 billion will be spent on TV campaign advertising. Now, a new ruling by the Federal Communication Commission requires broadcasters to post political advertisement data online, making it easier for the public to see exactly who is buying those ads. We speak with Robert McChesney, co-founder of the national media reform organization Free Press, and Justin Elliott, a reporter at ProPublica working on a project called "Free the Files," that asks people and journalists across the country to visit TV stations, acquire paper data on political ads, and then post the files online at ProPublica.org.

 

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ending a yearlong campaign and week-long farewell, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich formally terminated his presidential candidacy Wednesday in Arlington, Virginia. However, Gingrich is likely to remain a familiar face if a new online advertisement by Obama’s re-election campaign is any indication. The advertisement strings together some of Newt Gingrich’s criticism of Mitt Romney expressed earlier in the Republican primary season. This is a part of that ad.

NEWT GINGRICH: As a man who wants to run for president of the United States who can’t be honest with the American people, why should we expect him to level about anything if he’s president? You certainly have to say that Bain, at times, engaged in behavior where they looted a company leaving behind 1,700 unemployed people. There was a pattern in some companies, a handful of them, of leaving them with enormous debt, and then, within a year or two or three, having them go broke. I think that is something he ought to answer. I don’t know of any American president who’s had a Swiss bank account; I’d be glad for you to explain that sort of thing. The Romney machine can drive down turnout. It can run over opponents with negative ads. It doesn’t seem capable of inspiring positive turnout. And the result is, I think, very, very worrisome if you’re thinking about the fall campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of a new online advertisement by President Obama’s re-election campaign. During this year’s election, political analysts estimate an unprecedented $3.2 billion will be spent on TV campaign advertising. Well, late last month, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, voted two to one to require broadcasters to post political ad data on the web, making it easier for the public to see exactly how those dollars are spent on TV advertising in this election and who’s spending it.

For more, we’re joined now from Madison, Wisconsin, by Robert McChesney, co-founder of Free Press, the national media reform organization, author of a number of books on media and politics. And here in New York, we’re joined by Justin Elliott, a reporter at ProPublica who has been working on a project called "Free the Files" that asks online contributors to visit TV stations, acquire the paper data on political ads, and post—they will post the files online. Shortly after the FCC ruling, he wrote a piece called " FCC-Required Political Ad Data Disclosures Won’t Be Searchable."

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Justin Elliott, explain the significance of this not-very-well-covered FCC ruling. Is it a surprise it wasn’t very well covered by the very media that it will affect, the TV networks?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. Well, most of the big media corporations in the country were actually lobbying against this pretty vigorously at the FCC. Whether or not that related to coverage, it’s—you know, it’s impossible to prove.

 
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