Thursday, May 1, 2014

READ: National Campaign Watchdog Groups File FCC Complaint Vs. Phoenix TV Station For Allowing Outside Spenders To Hide; Possible Defense: "But, EVERYBODY Does It!"

(UPDATED, 5pm: Arizona's Politics updates this article - and, others - here, and at the bottom of this article.)

National campaign watchdog groups the Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center have filed an FCC complaint against KNXV-TV (Phoenix, Channel 15) for accepting incompletely-filled-out disclosure forms from outside spending groups airing 30-second attack ads.

The two groups filed complaints against 11 stations in 9 different large cities around the country, making sure that the complaints were regarding both Democratic-leaning ads and Republican-philic groups. (The complaint is reproduced below.)

They could just as easily filed against EVERY major Phoenix and Tucson station.  They all accepted the IDENTICAL filing.

Arizona's Politics also attempted to address this issue behind the scenes last month, after KPNX (Channel 12) had filed an even less-informative NAB form it received from the Legacy Foundation Action Fund.  Arizona's Politics published several articles on the shadowy LFAF, and contacted KPNX VP Station Manager Mark Casey about the problematic filing. (email is reproduced below the jump)  KPNX did not respond.

As noted in the email to KPNX, "as unfair as it may be", the television station - the regulated station with a license to use a portion of the public airwaves and to serve the public - has the responsibility to obtain the disclosure information.  The stations apparently should not accept the advertising until the form meets legal standards.  The Sunlight Foundation had also contacted KPNX about the issue, without success.

The Channel 15 complaint relates to the first wave of ads run in January by the House Majority PAC, supporting Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-CD1). Channel 15 accepted - and, posted - the NAB form that is supposed to provide required-by-law information about the advertiser.  The form was not properly completed.

The complaints are not seeking monetary damages, but ask that the FCC "issu(e) a Public Notice reminding broadcast stations of their obligations, to ensure that this and other broadcast stations include all of the legally required disclosures in the future."

Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center, explained why they are taking this step: “In too many cases, the stations and their advertisers failed to comply with the simplest and most basic disclosure requirements. 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."
Arizona's Politics has contacted ABC-15 for response, and will update as needed.

 KNXV ABC15 told Arizona's Politics late this afternoon that they have received and reviewed the FCC Complaints.  Carolyn Pione Micheli, the Vice President for Corporate Communications at parent company Scripps, went on to say, "Our station KMGH in Denver was involved as well.  We think we’ve followed the proper procedures to disclose the source of the online advertising. But of course we’ll address any perceived deficiencies according to FCC regulations."

As this update is being written, KNXV is going through their files and uploading new NAB forms and "Federal Station Issue Advertising Request Sheets" on most of the political ads they have run this year.  The one that prompted Arizona's Politics' interest in April - the Legacy Foundation Action Fund ads attacking Gubernatorial candidate Scott Smith for the actions of the U.S. Conference of Mayors - has not yet been supplemented.  But, here is the mostly-blank NAB form that KNXV received from LFAF and filed on April 3.

As noted earlier, ALL of the stations accept and file these undisclosing disclosures.  The LFAF one was particularly egregious for its blanks and because it came from a new group that STILL does not have its officers listed.

Arizona's Politics has taken the unusual step of challenging KNXV, KPNX (Channel 12, which was the first to file the LFAF form) and the other Arizona television stations to stand united and refuse to accept legally-deficient forms.  The alternatives are for one or more courageous stations to take unilateral stands to not accept the advertising until legally-satisfactory disclosure is received.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Urgent: deficient NAB report on political ad FCC filing, Legacy
Foundation Action Fund
From: <>
Date: Mon, April 07, 2014 12:50 pm


I am contacting you regarding a deficient NAB report which KPNX filed with the FCC on Friday, for the Legacy Foundation Action Fund ad campaign. 

As unfair as it may be, it is my understanding that it is KPNX's responsibility to make sure that the information required by law is completed by the advertiser.  And, in fact, the bottom of the form gives KPNX the options of accepting, accepting in part, or rejecting the form.

It is especially relevant in this case because LFAF has not filed its officers (or, donors, etc) with the FEC, either.  They are very new, as well, and the connection between LFAF and the Legacy Foundation is not clear.

I am publishing an article on this ad campaign, the LFAF and the deficient NAB forms.  PLEASE let me know as soon as possible how KPNX is going to handle this.  My understanding is that KPNX was questioned (by a reporter) last year on some of these skeletal NAB forms - I hope that you are going to respond quickly to this instance (and prevent this from happening during the rest of this campaign season)!

If you prefer to talk about this on the phone or have any questions, please feel free to call me at 602-799-7025.  An email response is fine, too.


We welcome your comments about this post. Or, if you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com or call 602-799-7025. Thanks.

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