Excerpt from Politico:
If you think there should be a law to expose such conduct, you may be surprised to learn that there is such a law. It’s been on the books for more than 75 years. Section 317 of the 1934 Communications Act provides that viewers and listeners are entitled to know who is paying for commercials.
This is true of advertising not only for commercial products, but especially in the case of elections or controversial issues. The law is consistent with Justice Louis Brandeis’s philosophy that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
The longstanding FCC regulation requires an announcement to “fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person or persons … or other entity by whom or on whose behalf such payment is made.” It provides that when a person or entity acts on behalf of another, and this fact is known or could be known by the station exercising reasonable diligence, the name of the real sponsor must be announced.
Broadcast and cable stations are required to determine the “true identity” of the sponsoring entity or entities and announce that name. Most important, when viewers and listeners hear an ad that uses a front group with a meaningless name — “Americans for a Better Tomorrow” — they should ask the station, with a copy to the FCC, to use reasonable diligence to disclose the real person or entity that put up the money.
If the station fails to do so, there can be resort to the FCC or, if necessary, the courts.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United permitted unlimited expenditures of union and corporate money in politics. But the court did not rule that these expenditures should be secret. It ruled, “prompt disclosures of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable. … This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”