A House appropriations subcommittee slipped language into a federal budget bill on Tuesday that would strip the FCC of its ability to disclose political-ad spending by TV stations online.
The FCC adopted the new online disclosure requirements for broadcasters April 27, in an effort to shed more light on political spending.
If the appropriations bill is ultimately signed into law by President Obama, the FCC will be prohibited from spending any money to enforce or administer the new disclosure regulations.
An industry source said that the rider was included in the appropriations bill by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on financial services.
A spokesman for Emerson did not return telephone calls or emails. The FCC had no immediate comment.
The vote was a big win for the National Association of Broadcasters, which has been vocal in its opposition to the FCC's rules.
“It’s no secret that this new FCC rule is being opposed by many members of Congress and that NAB has filed suit to overturn the FCC rule,” Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, told TheWrap on Tuesday, declining additional comment.
The NAB has challenged the constitutionality of the FCC's new regulations, charging in a May 21 petition at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the rules violate the broadcast industry’s First Amendment rights.
The rules discriminate against TV stations because they require only broadcasters to disclose ad rates online, not cable TV systems and other broadcast industry competitors, the NAB claims.
Not everyone agrees.
“It’s clear that the broadcast industry is pulling out the stops to bury information about political ad spending on the public airwaves,” said Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for the watchdog Free Press, in a statement. “What’s more appalling is that some elected officials are willing to help them do it.”
“Broadcasters spent nearly $14 million on lobbyists in 2011,” Wright said. “Now they’re spending millions more on campaign contributions to buy support from some members of Congress, but that’s drop in the bucket compared to over $3 billion in political ad revenues that television stations stand to pull in this election cycle.”
Under the new FCC rules, TV stations affiliated with the four top TV networks in the nation’s 50 largest markets would be required to file political information online first.
All other TV stations would be exempt from the new requirements until July 1, 2014, to give the FCC the opportunity to see how the changes work.
Though FCC rules already require broadcasters to document their political ad sales in publicly accessible files at their stations, interested parties have to visit stations in person to get the data. Under the new requirement, the data would be accessible at the click of a mouse.