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Policy Division Dismisses Sunlight Foundation et al Complaints

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Released: September 2, 2014
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Federal Communications Commission

Washington, D.C. 20554

September 2, 2014

DA 14-1267

Andrew Jay Schwartzman

Institute for Public Representation

Georgetown University Law Center

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Suite 312

Washington, DC 20001

RE: Complaints against ACC Licensee, LLC, Licensee of Station WJLA-TV, Washington, D.C, and

Sander Media, LLC, Licensee of Station KGW(TV), Portland, OR

Dear Mr. Schwartzman:

This letter refers to the complaints filed by the Institute for Public Representation on behalf of

the Campaign Legal Center, the Sunlight Foundation, and Common Cause on July 17, 2014, against the

above-referenced stations.

The complaints, which were served on the licensees’ respective counsel on

July 17, 2014, allege violations of Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47

U.S.C. § 317, and Section 73.1212(e) of the Commission’s Rules, 47 U.S.C. § 73.1212(e).

Complainants argue that the stations failed to “fully and fairly disclose the true identity” of the sponsors

in their on-air sponsorship identifications of certain political issue advertising, as required by Section

317 of the Act, and failed to list the principal(s) of the alleged true sponsor in their public files, as

required by Section 73.1212(e) of the Rules.

We conclude that the complaints do not provide a sufficient showing that the stations had

credible evidence casting into doubt that the identified sponsors of the advertisement were the true

sponsors. As the Commission has stated previously, “unless furnished with credible, unrefuted evidence

that a sponsor is acting at the direction of a third party, the broadcaster may rely on the plausible

assurances of the person(s) paying for the time that they are the true sponsor.”1 While the complaint

against WJLA presented some evidence that station employees may have come across facts in the course

of news reporting on political issues that could have raised questions in their minds concerning the

relationship of NextGen Climate Action Committee and Tom Steyer, we exercise our discretion not to

pursue enforcement in this instance, given the need to balance the “reasonable diligence” obligations of

broadcasters in identifying the sponsor of an advertisement with the sensitive First Amendment interests

present here. Our approach might have been different if the complainants had approached the stations

directly to furnish them with evidence calling into question that the identified sponsors were the true

sponsors.

1 Trumper Communications of Portland, LTD, 11 FCC Rcd 20415 (1996) (citing Loveday v. FCC, 707 F.2d 1443 (D.C. Cir.

1983)). Cf. Loveday, 707 F.2d at 1459 (“There may be cases where a challenger makes so strong a circumstantial case that

someone other than the named sponsor is the real sponsor that licensees, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, would have

to inform the named sponsor that they could not broadcast the message without naming another party.”).

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Accordingly, we hereby dismiss both complaints without prejudice.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Baker

Assistant Chief, Policy Division

Media Bureau

Federal Communications Commission

cc:

Barry Faber Esq., Sinclair Broadcast Group, for WJLA-TV

James R. W. Bayes, Esq., Wiley Rein LLP, for KGW(TV)

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