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McDowell Offers Hope On Political Ad Files

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell says that rather than adopting Chairman Genachowski’s plan, he would prefer that stations “aggregate” the spending of individual candidates and PACs and report that on a weekly or daily basis rather than requiring them to put the rates of all political buys on the Web. And colleague Mignon Clyburn says she’s open to persuasion on the matter. For all that’s going on at NAB 2012, click here.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell stopped just short of formally endorsing the broadcaster-backed alternative to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s plan to require TV stations to post their entire political advertising files online.

Speaking on a Tuesday NAB Show panel with fellow commissioner Mignon Clyburn, he said he would prefer that stations “aggregate” the spending of individual candidates and PACs and report that on a weekly or daily basis rather than requiring them to put the rates of all political buys on the Web — a proposal that broadcasters have been vigorously opposing and that is set for an April 27 FCC vote.

“Isn’t it more valuable to know that x campaign or x super PAC is spending $25,000 on that station?”

McDowell’s proposal sounds a lot like the alternative proposed by the Television Operators Caucus, a coalition of leading broadcasters. It too would require stations to post regular summaries of spending by candidates and PACs.

After the panel, McDowell said he wouldn’t go so far as to say he was endorsing the specific TOC plan. “But if it’s in the same spirit, it’s in the same spirit.”

Marci Burdick, head of the Schurz TV station group and the TV representative on the panel, said the TOC proposal is a better idea.

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“Our theory was [the station’s summaries of political spending] would be uploaded and it would be searchable, accessible, there for the researchers,” she said.

“We thought it was easy, elegant. It would resolve the public policy issues, yet deal with the real concerns that broadcasters have.”

Unfortunately, she said, the alternative was “batted away” by Genachowski and his staff.

In an NAB speech Monday, Genachowski said that he was sticking to the original plan.

Broadcasters have been resisting that plan, arguing that compliance would be costly and that posting rate information online would handicap sales to political and commercial advertisers by making it too easy for them to analyze their rates.

McDowell said putting the rate information online could backfire, leading to “price signaling.” Broadcasters would be tempted to collude and raise rates, he said. “Is that what we want?”

McDowell also said he also didn’t like broadcasters being singled out.

“What is disparate is focusing on just one recipient out of the many, many, many recipients of campaign dollars — not radio, not cable-only channels, not satellite, not newspaper advertising, not consultants, not people who knock on doors and hand out leaflets….

“If they want more transparency, focus on spenders of the money rather than one out of many recipients.”

McDowell declined to speculate on whether Genachowski might modify his position, saying he hadn’t spoken recently to him about it. “Hopefully, this Thursday, I’ll have a chance to do that.”

Leaving broadcasters with some hope of a compromise was Clyburn, who could be the swing vote on this issue at an FCC that has two vacant commissioner slots.

She declined to discuss the proposal, but said, “I would just affirm to you … that this office is still open to engagement.”

That drew a high five from McDowell. “You have two-thirds of the FCC right here,” he said.

For all that’s going on at NAB 2012, click here.


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