Federal Communications Commission proposals to require television broadcasters to disclose political advertising information online are a waste of time, leaders of a House Appropriations subcommittee argued on Monday.
"Why do you care about this? You have plenty of other things to care about. Why in the world is this a big priority?" Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., asked FCC officials at a hearing of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.
Other agencies already handle election disclosure rules, and the FCC may be wasting its time, she said. The FCC is funded entirely by fees, so it is in little danger of losing any money. But displeasure over one issue can complicate the FCC's efforts to work with Congress on others.
The FCC has asked for public comment about the plan but broadcasters say it would be unduly expensive. Broadcasters are already required by law to collect and retain information on the political ads they air, but the records are typically kept as paper documents at individual stations.
Putting those records online will allow many more people to see where political funds are being spent, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. In an era of digital communications, it only makes sense to consider putting such records online, he said.
GOP FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said while transparency is an important goal, the rules could have unintended consequences.
"The proposed rules would require broadcasters to reveal proprietary and competitively sensitive advertising and rate information online," he said. "While the original goal of such disclosure may have been to create more transparency in the political spending process, the unintended consequence could be to encourage price signaling and other anti-competitive conduct by broadcasters that could produce harmful market distortions."