Denver TV station subject of political ad complaint

Watchdog groups demand more transparency from TV stations

Denver TV station subject of political ad complaint

Denver’s KMGH Channel 7 is the subject of a Federal Communications Commission complaint alleging that it has failed to provide adequate information about political ads airing on the station.

The Campaign Legal Center and Sunlight Foundation filed complaints with the FCC on Thursday against KMGH and 10 other stations around the nation. Both organizations are based in Washington, D.C.

The groups want stations to comply with the agency’s disclosure requirements on political ads, especially when it comes to so-called dark money groups that don’t have to disclose spending elsewhere.

That dark-money spending so far in 2014 is three times what it was at this time two years ago, the nonprofit group Open Secrets told a congressional committee Wednesday. In Denver, ad buys surpassed $3 million last week.

The complaints say the stations fail to comply with FCC regulations that require advertisers to identify the candidates and issues of national importance that ads refer to, as well as either the CEO or board of directors of the organization buying the ads.

By law, television stations must keep records of political ad buys and make them available to the public. Since August 2012, stations in the top 50 markets have been required to file the documents online. The filings including contracts, invoices and other disclosures.

The complaint against KMGH cites March ads by the Senate Majority PAC opposing Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner who is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. It says the station failed to disclose the national issues addressed in the ads, and didn’t require the political action committee to reveal the CEO or board of directors. Instead, a disclosure form names the group’s treasurer.

“In too many cases, the stations and their advertisers failed to comply with the simplest and most basic disclosure requirements,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, in a news release. “As a result, the public does not have the information it needs to understand who is speaking on the public airwaves and attempting to influence their views on political issues.”

The Campaign Legal Center focuses on campaign finance, elections, political communications and government ethics. Sunlight is an open-government advocate. Both are nonpartisan nonprofits.

The Senate Majority PAC is registered with the Federal Elections Commission, where it must file reports on its donors and expenditures.

Other groups targeted by the complaints aren’t covered by the FEC, so little is known about their donors or spending.

“These files are often the only way we can track political activities and spending by dark money groups that aren’t required to disclose those activities with the Federal Election Commission,” said Sunlight Foundation Managing Editor Kathy Kiely in a news release.

By filing the complaints, Sunlight and the legal center hope the FCC will enforce better disclosure by the stations. Other stations with complaints filed against them are in Charlotte, Detroit, Phoenix, Boston, Miami, Tampa, Minneapolis and Durham, N.C.

In a news release, the groups said the grievances were filed without regard to political leanings of the advertiser, geographic location or network affiliation.

The FCC complaints filed Thursday may only represent a fraction of violations of the disclosure policy.

On Wednesday afternoon, for instance, ads paid for by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign and the League of Conservation Voters regarding Colorado’s U.S. Senate race aired during the “Dr. Phil” show on KCNC Channel 4. But that channel hadn’t filed any ad buys by either organization through 7 a.m. MDT today.

Chris Ruggeri, director of sales for KCNC, said the station relies on a central office to file with the FCC, and that he expects the filings to be caught up by Thursday. UPDATE: Udall ad buys were filed at 8:08 MDT Thursday.

“Our political filings in terms of uploading to the FCC site are done by our Philadelphia office,” Ruggeri said. “I’ll have to follow up and find out why they’re slow to get on.”

KMGH has filed more ad buys than the other four Denver stations required to file with the FCC, including buys scheduled for summer and fall.

But one of those fall ad buys  for more than $740,000 is labeled only “Issues-Various” with a product listed as “undisclosed.” The agency buying the ads in the past has represented Americans for Prosperity, a conservative dark-money group funded by the Koch brothers. But the FCC requires that buyers be identified in such contracts.

“We know it’s the tip of the iceberg and will definitely continue our surveillance,” Kiely said in an email. “We are not ruling out more complaints to FCC.”

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About the Author

Sandra Fish

has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, Colorado - swing states, baby! She has worked for newspapers large and small.
sandrafish@comcast.net | @fishnette

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