Six Republican senators have asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its proposal to have TV stations put their political files online.
Those are the records of political time buys that allow the public and candidates to see what candidates are being charged for time and who is buying it. Stations have to provide equal access to federal candidates and charge them the lowest unit rate for time purchased.
Broadcasters argue that there is little public interest benefit that the files are available at each station for those who want to see them, and that to maintain an online, real-time system would cost staff time and money better spent on local news and other public service.
In the letter, the senators, including Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, argue that the proposal is "excessive and unnecessary" given that the information is available already at the local station. They say the transfer of files to a database does not justify the regulatory and competitive costs.
"Given these issues along with the heavy compliance costs," they conclude, "we ask that you reconsider this proposal and maintain the rules as currently constituted."
Putting the political files online is part of a larger FCC effort to move station public files online and into a database managed by the FCC that is more easily searchable by the public.
Also signing on to the letter were Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Mike Lee of Utah and John Boozman of Arkansas.
"It's baffling that these senators would want to hide public information in dusty filing cabinets when it could be made available to their constituents via the Internet," said Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for Free Press, which supports online posting. "The public wants and needs to know who's trying to influence them over the public airwaves -- and the FCC appears to be doing the right thing by bringing this antiquated system into the 21st century. These senators should stop trying to hide or obscure this important information."