Republicans Back Down On Efforts To Block Political Ad Disclosure

In a win for transparency in the political process, Congressional Republicans have backed down from efforts to effectively nullify a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that will make some political advertising data available on the Internet. A Democratic aide told ProPublica that House Republicans have given up on blocking the measure because “the increasing attention on campaign finance after Citizens United made it difficult for Republicans to oppose the FCC’s transparency rule.”

While considering the FCC’s annual budget yesterday, a House Appropriations panel endorsed an amendment by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) to specifically prevent the agency from spending any money to implement the advertising disclosure rule. In a surprise move, Emerson (R-MO) later retracted the amendment.

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The regulations will require that many television broadcasters post online information about how much political campaigns paid for advertisements, and aim to “shed light on the big money behind political ad campaigns by making the data more accessible.” Given that many outside groups political messages are not disclosed to the Federal Election Commission, this would bring some transparency to the post-Citizens United spending by corporations and tax-exempt groups.

Republicans, led by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have strongly opposed the move toward greater disclosure. In a speech last week on “Growing Threats to our First Amendment Rights,” McConnell argued that making this already available information more accessible to citizens was somehow an attempt to restrict free speech. He told the conservative American Enterprise Institute:

And yet these are not the only ways the administration is aiming to restrict speech. In a standard tactic of the left, what they haven’t been able to achieve through the courts or Congress, they’re already attempting to achieve through regulations. Over at the FEC, the Democrat commissioners are pushing a rule to compel third-party groups to reveal their donors. They’re deadlocked at the moment, with all three Republican commissioners standing strong. But this effort isn’t limited to the FEC. The FCC just finalized a rule requiring broadcasters to list the names of any groups that pay for or want to pay for television ads online. The National Association of Broadcasters is fighting back right now in court.

The apparent change of heart by House Republicans seems to be the latest indication that the American public is strongly opposed to the opaque, anything-goes campaign finance system McConnell defends.

-Nina Liss-Schultz