Congressman: I've Got a Plan to Make Political Ad Buys More Transparent

Rep. Ben Ray Luján Introduces The Fair and Clear Campaign Transparency Act

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Rep. Ben Ray Luján.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján. Credit: lujan.house.gov

In today's edition, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D.-N.M.) says he has a plan to make political ad buys more transparent. While certain information about political-campaign TV ads, like who's actually paying for them, is technically supposed to be part of the public record through the Federal Communications Commission, Rep. Luján says that in practice the information is not truly accessible. So he's introducing The Fair and Clear Campaign Transparency Act to direct the FCC to make the information "available in a way that allows the public to actually use it and evaluate who is trying to influence their vote."

It's a Big Data solution that would require the FCC to publish its political ad buying information in "a format that is searchable, sortable and downloadable."

Here's the congressman's full statement, which his D.C. office released yesterday:

Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico's Third District introduced The Fair and Clear Campaign Transparency Act today to increase transparency and openness in the political system by making it easier to search for public information filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"Since Citizens United opened the doors to Super PACs and unlimited money, these groups have flooded the nation's airwaves. During the 2016 election cycle an estimated $8.5 billion will be spent on political ads on television," Congressman Luján said. "While certain information about political ad buying is part of the public file with the FCC, that information is not available in a very usable way. This commonsense legislation calls on the FCC to take steps to make this information available and more accessible. If we are going to require this material to be publicly available -- as we should -- it should also be available in a way that allows the public to actually use it and evaluate who is trying to influence their vote."

In 2012, the FCC required TV stations to post public file materials online, including important political ad buying information. However, the FCC did not require that the online data be machine-readable. The FCC Transparency Act instructs the FCC to undertake a rulemaking to make this information available in a format that is searchable, sortable, and downloadable. Luján's legislation is supported by a number of organizations, including Common Cause and Public Citizen.

"At this critical moment when big-money special interests always seem to get their way, Common Cause commends Congressman Luján for introducing legislation to ensure that the political ad file at the FCC is sortable and machine-readable," said Viki Harrison, Executive Director of the New Mexico Chapter of Common Cause. "This bill will help strengthen our democracy so that everyday Americans will always have a strong voice in our government and know who is trying to influence our elections."

"In this day and age, there is no excuse for failing to employ the full transparency powers of the Internet, making digital information and data easily searchable by the name of a sponsor or sorted by the amount of an expenditure," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. "Federal and state Internet disclosure programs today widely employ this state-of-the-art standard of making online information machine-readable -- in other words, searchable, sortable and downloadable. Congressman Luján's proposed legislation simply requires that the FCC disclosure rule conform to today's digital standards of full transparency. This legislation should win the support of every member of Congress who believes in removing barriers to online access to public information."

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