COMPASS| Who’s Behind That Political Ad? The FCC’s Online Political Files and Failures in Sponsorship Identification Regulation
This article examines the role of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in regulating political advertising on broadcast television. In the wake of an extension of reporting to include radio, satellite, and cable providers, this study examines the extent to which reporting requirements have been upheld in the established Online Public Inspection File (OPIF) particularly regarding the full identification of sponsors of political ads. Through an exploration of filings by broadcasters in four states, clear sponsorship identification filing was found to be lacking. Research revealed a number of administrative and regulatory problems in the filing and uploading of political files that undermines the OPIF’s ability to be used as (a) a public tool for transparency, (b) data for researchers and watchdog groups, and (c) a vital instrument for FCC oversight. Recommendations for future changes to both the structure of the OPIF and for sponsorship identification regulations are discussed.