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A remote chance of seeing TV political spending records

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Keep the clicker ready. Now that the final showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney is all but set in stone, both sides and their surrogates are gearing up for an onslaught of television advertising that is about to assault your senses and make television station owners very rich.

An estimated $3 billion is expected to be spent on television advertising this year in both the presidential and congressional campaigns, not only by the candidates but also the so-called Super PACs that have sprung to life in the wake of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.

In an effort to bring some light to how much is being spent and who is spending it, the Democratic-controlled Federal Communications Commission is expected by the end of the month to enact rules to require television stations to post their files online on political ad purchases. It is a move that is garnering opposition from both the television industry and GOP senators alike.

But it’s not like the FCC is requiring the station owners to create records out of whole cloth.  For 40 years, broadcasters have been required to maintain these same files for the public to access at the stations. If anyone wants to, all they have to do is drive over to, say, WBZ on Soldiers Field Road in Brighton and ask to see the “public files.” The FCC says all they want to do is save the drive.

Station owners, who successfully blocked a similar attempt in 2007 when the Republicans controlled the FCC, say the cost and time involved would make effort prohibitive. But the FCC maintains it would cost no more than $1,000 for the initial posting and then stations would save money over time by not having to print and copy the reports. In addition, the FCC is expected to limit its mandate to stations in the top 50 markets for at least this election cycle.

It’s not only the explosion in advertising that is spurring the move; it’s also the extended reach by television stations in the age of cable and satellite television. With advent of “super channels” such as TBS in Atlanta and WGN in Chicago now part of many channel lineups around the country, and even locally, with Boston stations now being carried in the northern and western reaches of New England, it is asking a lot for someone to drive hundreds of miles to access the files.

Making the records more readily available is also a check on the television stations themselves, which have seen their political advertising revenue climb 62 percent over just four years ago and more than four-fold since 2002. The money has made stations targets for takeovers.

In addition, the records make sure reporting is done properly. For instance, one reporter in Michigan scouring the records of stations there found about $70 million that was spent in advertising over a period of 10 years that was not reported to the Federal Election Commission.

But some people may not have to wait. The nonprofit ProPublica has decided to crowdsource the effort of scanning and posting the station records online. The investigative public interest newsroom is asking readers and members to go into local stations to get the records and ProPublica’s site will host them.

Transparency is clearly a double-sided effort. You can require any kind of filings you want, but if the public can’t see them, it ain’t transparent.

                                                                                                                                        --JACK SULLIVAN
 
BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s 2013 budget declines to take up Gov. Deval Patrick’s community college overhaul. It features no new taxes, more local aid, and more prohibitions on the use of welfare aid, the Eagle-Tribune reports. CommonWealth notes the budget requires the Department of Correction to “reprocure” various inmate services.

CASINOS

A study by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found out-of-state gambling by Bay State residents rose in 2011.

Boston mayor Tom Menino will announce a five-member panel to help vet a casino proposal from Suffolk Downs.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Boston City Council approves restrictions on when the city clerk can perform weddings and requires a $15 contribution to the city, CommonWealth reports.

Top officials in Worcester, Fitchburg, Holyoke, and New Bedford discuss creative placemaking at a conference in Lowell, CommonWealth reports.

The owner of a Dartmouth apartment complex that was gutted by an Easter Sunday fire is charging tenants as much as $750 upfront to retrieve their personal belongings.

Westport officials are blaming an anti-tax group for spreading what they say was “misinformation” to defeat a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion that will result in teacher layoffs.

Abington employees are leery of the costs of a new health plan instituted by town officials after the two sides failed to reach an agreement in negotiations.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse found himself in hot water with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance over improper solicitations for inaugural sponsors; however, the case has been closed.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

George Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. The Globe reports on the reaction of area black leaders.  Rev. Eugene Rivers says, “The more important issue is black-on-black violence.” A Bay State Banner report asks what would have happened if Trayvon Martin had not been suspended from his high school.

ELECTION 2012

Michael Tomasky, writing in The Daily Beast, takes a hard look at President Obama’s push for the Buffett rule. He also says Republicans will vote against it, “with I suppose the possible exception of the Warren-wary calendar boy.”

Now that Mitt Romney is The Man, Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer notwithstanding, Keller@Large says the former governor’s signature on the Massachusetts health care law is no longer the cudgel it once was with moderate voters now in play. David Bernstein highlights a novel effort by Romney’s campaign to steer federal campaign funds to state committees. Romney launches the “I like women, no, really” phase of his campaign -- a move that’s complicated on several fronts.  Meanwhile, Ann Romney defends being a stay at home mother.
Tea Party types are decidedly cool to the presumptive nominee.

CHARITY

A check by a security software company has found that more than 132,000 charities -- about one in five nonprofits -- included someone’s Social Security number in their public filings with the IRS. Via Chronicle of Philanthropy.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Boston Marathon is expected to bring in big bucks to the region.

Lotteries are government at its worst, says the American Spectator.

Radio Boston examines what defense cuts would mean for Massachusetts.

The Justice Department sues Apple over alleged e-book price fixing, an occasion that Amazon marks by rolling out new low, low prices.

EDUCATION

Louisiana is poised to establish a school voucher program, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Boston University chapter of a national fraternity that was involved in a hazing incident will be closed.

HEALTH CARE

South Shore Hospital confirms it is in discussions for a possible merger with Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Fox Undercover reports on a video showing lengthy shock treatments of an autistic teen at the Judge Rotenberg Center.

Teen pregnancy rates in New England are the lowest in the nation. New Hampshire is the lowest, with 15.7 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19. Mississippi is the highest, with 55 births per 1,000 teens in the same age group, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

WBUR’s CommonHealth blog offers some perspectives on the Patrick administration’s celebration of the Massachusetts health reform law.

MEDIA

The Bay Citizen, after a merger with the Center for Investigative Reporting, ends its relationship with the New York Times.

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