Sunlight to FCC: 2,100 Files Missing from Political Database

Group Tracking Political Spending Complains Some Info Has Disappeared

The Sunlight Foundation Thursday said that due to imprecise rules and broadcasters' varying interpretations, 2,100 entries in the FCC's TV station political files database are missing. It says that of the 220 stations that are required to post documents on political ad spending--the top affiliates in the top 50 markets--more than half have since removed some of those documents.

Sunlight has been monitoring and trying to expand the database, through its Political Ad Sleuth project, as has ProPublica, which Sunlight says has most of those missing files in the cloud. Sunilght says it has started backing up the FCC filings so it can preserve the non-paper trail.

In a story on its Web site, Sunlight Reporting Group's Jake Harpersaid that broadcasters have been updating ad revisions by replacing the original file, which Sunlight says keeps the public dark on changes like shifts in strategy and spending.

Broadcasters also disagree on interpretations of the requirement--since Aug. 2--of uploading the political files, the group points out, with some uploading only certain agreements with "national significance" or that deal with certain kinds of spots. Then there are mistakes in filing and labeling that can account for some omissions.

Sunlight said the FCC had declined to comment on what it called a "disturbing pattern of disappearing documents." At press time, the FCC had not returned our request for comment on why it had not replied to Sunlight's request.

Broadcasters have sued the FCC over the requirement, but last month asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to delay hearing its appeal of the mandate from this month until Feb. 15 and reserved the right to drop that legal action "Based on experience gained during the 2012 election cycle," or if, instead, the results reinforced the NAB’s argument that posting individual spot prices puts it at a competitive disadvantage, the FCC could act on its petition for reconsideration, which offered up an alternative where stations would provide aggregate prices.