Amidst the fallout of Citizens United, politcal action committees (PACS), and now SuperPACS, have propagated across the airwaves and social media with little or no transparency of their sources of funding. In an effort to bring some accountability to the public arena ProPublica; the Pulitzer Prize winning, independent, nonprofit, online news publication; has launched a grassroots effort to document who is spending money on what…And YOU can help.
Campaign Ads: How To Free the Files at Your TV Station
Television stations are required by the Federal Communications Commission to keep a list of political ad buys and to make it available on request. Stations don’t post this data on the Internet, however, so the only way to get the records is to go in person.
We think this data is vitally important, and can reveal how big money influences elections. So to make it accessible to everyone, we started a project last month named “Free the Files” to recruit citizens and local journalists to visit TV stations and post these “Public File” documents online.
So far, more than 180 people in 37 states and the District of Columbia have volunteered to make copies of the files, then scan and e-mail them to us. But with hundreds of TV stations and untold millions in political ad spending expected this year, we still need you! The process takes between 15-30 minutes at your TV station, plus however long it takes to scan and e-mail us the files.
1) Sign up with the project to let them know of your interest and to corrdinate with others in your area to ensure there is no doubling up of efforts.
2) Go to the front desk of the television studio during business hours. Politely ask to see “the Public File.” They should know what you’re talking about, but if not, you can ask to speak to whoever handles political ads. It’s likely that a staff member will be summoned to escort you to the file.
3) The files are paper records, probably in manila file folders or binders. They should be organized by advertiser and client name. It would be great if you could copy everything, but ProPublica is primarily interested in spending by outside groups (super PACs and nonprofits), so if your time is limited please pull whatever files are there on these:
- Restore Our Future (pro-Romney)
- Winning Our Future (pro-Gingrich)
- Red White and Blue Fund (pro-Santorum)
- Endorse Liberty (pro-Paul)
- Priorities USA Action (pro-Obama)
4) There may not be any files on some of these groups if they have not been advertising in your market. For reference, our PAC Track news application lists the major super PACs that may have run ads in your state.
5) Ask for a photocopy of the selected files. Most stations will do this for free, but some will charge a small fee per page. Some may point you to the photocopy machine and ask you to do it.
6) Once you have all the copies, scan and e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org (some stations may do this for you, but don’t count on it). We will post the files and credit you for your work.