Raleigh, N.C. — Two national watchdog groups say 11 broadcasters, including two in North Carolina, have failed to disclose legally required information about the political ads that air on their channels.
The Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center, two Washington-based nonprofits, filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday morning against WTVD in the Triangle, WCNC in Charlotte and nine other stations across the country. The complaints allege the stations failed to identify information such as the sponsors or subjects of the ads, which should be included on the forms submitted to the FCC.
"We feel that people deserve to know the identities of groups who are trying to influence votes – and their agendas," Sunlight Foundation Managing Editor Kathy Kiely said. "The only way these groups have to leave a paper trail is at the TV stations."
The complaints urge the FCC to ensure the information is corrected and that the agency remind broadcasters of the disclosure requirements.
"In too many cases, the stations and their advertisers failed to comply with the simplest and most basic disclosure requirements," Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. "As a result, the public does not have the information it needs to understand who is speaking on the public airwaves and attempting to influence their views on political issues."
WTVD and WCNC did not return emails or calls seeking comment on the complaints.
FCC rules require stations in the country's top-50 television markets – which include central North Carolina, the Triad and the Charlotte area – to provide certain information in online files posted on the FCC website.
On July 1, the FCC will begin requiring stations in smaller markets to follow suit.
The filings are one of the few ways voters can track the flow of so-called "dark money" during political campaigns.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 12,000 television ads related to the North Carolina’s U.S. Senate and Congressional campaigns have aired on broadcast television stations by candidates as well as independent groups, according to data provided to WRAL News by Kantar Media.
Kantar estimates those ads cost at least $5.1 million to air.
In the complaints, dated May 1, the groups say Durham ABC affiliate WTVD failed to provide information about the names of candidates and issues featured in an ad from American Crossroads. The ad criticizes Sen. Kay Hagan's stances on the Affordable Care Act and the state's recently passed voter ID law, and it urges viewers to vote for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis.
A separate complaint alleges Charlotte NBC affiliate WCNC failed to provide information about the issues featured in an ad by the Patriot Majority attacking Tillis over his stance on health care reform.
Both political ads also ran on WRAL-TV.
WRAL-TV was not named in the complaints.