FCC’s Plan to Put Political Ad Data Online Falls Short

Flickr: DonkeyHotey

Editor's Note: Civil Beat visited Hawaii's broadcast stations weekly this election season to get copies of ad contracts to track how much candidates and outside groups were spending on political TV ads. The final tally was more than $13.8 million. Our "Public File" project was inspired by national media outlet ProPublica's "Free the Files" series.

When the Federal Communications Commission passed a rule earlier this year to require TV stations to post political ad buying information online, public interest groups (and ProPublica) welcomed the policy as a means to get an unprecedented look at how billions of campaign dollars flow around the country.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called the rule a victory for transparency, saying the disclosure requirements are “part of the public’s basic contract with broadcasters in exchange for use of the spectrum and other benefits.”

But, in practice, attempts to create a full picture of political ad spending from the TV station files exposed deep flaws in the FCC’s effort as well as spotty compliance by the stations themselves.

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