Remember the outrage over Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission? The 2010 Supreme Court decision allowed corporations and other entities to expend unlimited funds on electoral influence, inspiring feverish protests and calls for constitutional reform. Jeremiads about the devolution of political discourse from an active citizenry engaged in public debate to a Machiavellian nightmare of corporate manipulation proliferated. Coupled with the growing awareness of economic inequality, Citizens United helped incite the Occupy movement and has already become a byword for corruption in the American political process. Like plenty of Americans, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg detests the ruling. “If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United,” she told Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic. “I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.” While it’s easy to locate those who defend Citizens United on constitutional grounds, finding support for the decision’s real-world effects on public discourse, debate, and democratic participation is a tougher task. But there’s one party that ought to be cheering the ruling’s positive impact on its livelihood: local TV.
For many Americans, the idea of technology that can block automated telephone calls sounds like a solution to all those annoying “robocalls” and interrupted family dinners. But to the nation’s pollsters and campaign professionals, many of whom are gearing up for the 2016 election cycle, a federal government proposal circulated Wednesday to encourage phone companies to embrace the technology feels like an existential threat. As a result, they say, Americans might soon know much less about what they think about everything from which candidates are gaining or losing ground to what issues voters care about most. And political campaigns might be forced to abandon tools they currently use to reach large numbers of voters in a short period of time.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee today dropped an effort to defund a new Federal Communications Commission rule that will make political ad data available on the Internet. The FCC rule, which was OKed by the commission earlier this year and is expected to go into effect sometime this summer or fall, would require TV stations to put detailed records on political ad buys on a new Web site. The files are currently public but are kept on paper at stations. The broadcast industry has vigorously fought the rule. Earlier this month Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., chair of an appropriations subcommittee, added an amendment to a bill that would have blocked the FCC from using any funds to implement the transparency measure.
Editorials: FCC Brings Sunlight to Elections, But the SEC Needs to Help, Too | Ciara Torres-Spelliscy/Huffington Post
2010 was a dark, even apocryphal election during which much of the political spending was from groups who did not reveal themselves. In the 2012 election, we might just have a bit more transparency. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited sums on elections. The case also ruled that transparency rules still apply to political ads. Justice Kennedy wrote, “A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before to-day.” This phrase from the court basically cries out for the political branches to act to bring better disclosure to elections. At long last, at least one federal agency has awakened from its deep slumber to bring the public improved transparency on political spending. It wasn’t the moribund Federal Election Commission (FEC). On April 27, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to place broadcasters’ political files online. This is a big step in the right direction.
A divided U.S. appeals court struck down a federal ban on political advertising on public TV and radio stations, a decision that could open the public airwaves to a heavy dose of campaign ads leading up to the November elections. By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the Federal Communications Commission violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause by blocking public broadcasters from running political and public issue ads. The court said the ban was too broad, and that lifting it would not threaten to undermine the educational nature of public broadcast stations. It upheld a ban on ads for goods and services on behalf of for-profit companies. “Public issue and political speech in particular is at the very core of the First Amendment’s protection,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote in the main opinion. “Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization’,” he continued. “Such advertisements do not encourage viewers to buy commercial goods and services. A ban on such advertising therefore cannot be narrowly tailored to serve the interest of preventing the ‘commercialization’ of broadcasting.”
The OSDV Foundation and TrustTheVote Project are pleased to have an opportunity to provide comment on an increasingly vital aspect of broadband in the United States: its use in civic participation and the processes of democracy. We encourage the Commission to develop a comprehensive national broadband plan that particularly includes a plan for the use…