Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

Protecting Political Speech and Broadcasters from Unnecessary Disclosure: Why the FCC Should Not Expand Sponsorship Identification Requirements for Political Issue Ads

Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

Protecting Political Speech and Broadcasters from Unnecessary Disclosure: Why the FCC Should Not Expand Sponsorship Identification Requirements for Political Issue Ads

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS  I. INTRODUCTION  II. BACKGROUND      A. Citizens United Changed the Political Campaign Landscape in        Several Important Ways by Allowing Unlimited Political        Expenditures by Third-Party Organizations, Corporations and        Unions for the Purpose of Express Advocacy      B. Since Citizens United, There Has been a Proliferation of Issue        Advocacy Campaigns C. The FCC Regulates Political Speech        Through a Series of Rules for Radio, Broadcast Television and        Cable      D. Several Organizations Sent Complaints to the FCC Regarding        Compliance with the Sponsorship Identification rules for        Political Advertising  III. ANALYZING THE FCC'S SPONSORSHIP IDENTIFICATION RULES: WHY LESS IS MORE      A. The FCC Should Not Require Broadcasters to Publish Individual        Donor Names in Sponsorship Identification for Political        Advertisements Because Such a Requirement Would be        Inconvenient for Both Broadcasters and Organizations That Wish        to Engage in Political Speech      B. The FCC Should Not Require Broadcasters to Publish Individual        Donor Names in Sponsorship Identification for Political        Advertisements Because Such a Requirement is Unnecessary Given        the Current Public File Requirements and the Readily Available        Nature of the Information      C. The FCC Should Not Require Broadcasters to Publish Individual        Donor Names in Sponsorship Identification for Political        Advertisements Because Such a Requirement Would be Contrary to        the Public Interest in Encouraging and Airing Political Speech  IV. CONCLUSION 

I. INTRODUCTION

"[I]t could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency."

--James Madison (1)

The First Amendment of the Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech; or the press." (2) Political speech, especially, is "central to the First Amendment's meaning and purpose." (3) Furthermore, the "First Amendment has its fullest and most urgent application to speech uttered during a campaign for political office." (4) Those that try to protect this fundamental civil liberty and the forces that suppress speech have long been at odds, especially as related to political speech. Since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, (5) which found that the First Amendment prohibited governmental limitations on political expenditures by non-profit and forprofit organizations, (6) many critics have cited concerns about donors and special interest groups with deep pockets controlling the political landscape.7 With unlimited expenditures, these organizations did undoubtedly change the political landscape: they produced more political advertising that focused on a range of topics during election cycles and they contributed to the range of political knowledge and opinion available to the public. (8) But despite this increase in political speech, there are still those that look to limit the influence of third party groups through expansive disclosure requirements for broadcasters which ultimately would abridge the speech of these groups in a way that is contrary to the Constitution. (9)

Organizations concerned about these third party ads and the donors behind them have sought the help of the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") to increase sponsorship identification requirements in an attempt to bring more transparency to political advertising. (10) In July 2014, the Sunlight Foundation, Common Cause, and the Campaign Legal Center filed two complaints against two television stations that ran ads funded by Political Action Committees ("PACs") that were entirely funded by one person. (11) The complaints alleged that the stations violated Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended,, as well as Section 73. …

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