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Happy First Birthday Citizens United!

WASHINGTON - On the eve of the anniversary of one of the most corrosive decisions to U.S. democracy by the Supreme Court--Citizens United-- Representatives John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) are leading a group of 168 House Democrats requesting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) increase transparency in U.S. elections. (See letter below.)

...Experts are estimating the 2016 presidential campaigns could generate a record $10 billion in spending, including a sizeable portion of money for advertisements backed by front groups who keep their donors secret.

Yarmuth and Eshoo have co-introduced legislation requiring the FCC to fully enforce the 1934 law.

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January 20, 2016

The Honorable Tom Wheeler, Chairman

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

We write to respectfully request that you ensure the full disclosure of the sponsors of political advertisements, as required by Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934. In today's political reality of non-stop campaigning, our system continues to fail the American people by allowing special interests and shadow groups to flood our airwaves with anonymous ads, with no disclosure whatsoever. We believe the Federal Communications Commission has the responsibility and legal authority to require disclosure of the actual donors behind these ads.

Section 317 and the associated FCC regulations require broadcasters to ensure that the "true identity" of the sponsors of political advertisements be disclosed on the air during the ad. However, for decades the FCC has failed to engage in any meaningful enforcement of Section 317. This is because the FCC currently enforces these regulations under a staff interpretation from 1979 which deems the organization that claims "editorial control" over the ad to be the true sponsor. In the new era of non-disclosing political organizations with intentionally opaque names, this interpretation is woefully out of date. While a non-disclosing organization may in fact have had editorial control over the advertisement, the true sponsors of the advertisement are those who contributed the money to pay for it.

An overwhelming majority of the American public believe that groups spending money to influence our elections should be required to publicly release their donors. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure requirements. In fact, the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions both discuss the importance of disclosure to protect the public from corruption, real or perceived. Strong enforcement of Section 317 will ensure a level of honesty currently missing from campaign discourse and improve transparency in our political system.

We therefore urge you to use the statutory authority granted to you in the Communications Act to require disclosure of the true sponsors of political advertisements so that the American public knows exactly who is trying to influence them over the public airwaves.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation and we look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,


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