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The FCC’s Online Political Public File Rule: The Law Of Unintended Consequences

In recent months, a number of media buyers have had funds stolen from their bank accounts.  Even after repeatedly opening and closing accounts to stop the theft, tens of thousands of dollars have been diverted to accounts across the country and across the world.  An investigation revealed that the information that enables this theft is coming from television stations FCC on-line political files.  

Here’s how the evil-doers are apparently accessing the bank accounts.  The FCC now requires stations affiliated with the top four national television broadcast networks in the top 50 DMAs to place their political local public file on an FCC-maintained website.  All other TV broadcasters must begin to upload new political files on July 1, 2014. 

The materials required by the rule are:

  1. Requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office,
  2. An appropriate notation showing the disposition made by the licensee of the requests and,
  3. The charges made, if any, if the request is granted.

Disposition of the request is shown with a schedule of the time purchased, the rates charged, and the classes of time purchased.  In the past, many broadcasters complied with these requirements by simply putting copies of the ad buy order and the payment check in their local public file.  This minimized the time required for compliance and, in a pre-internet world, presented few risks.  To comply, many broadcasters are uploading exact copies of the bank checks used for payment without any redaction, making bank account numbers, routing numbers, and signatures are freely available online to the unscrupulous.  

To be clear, the FCC has never required that sensitive financial information be placed in the political file.  All stations that have placed such information online should stop the practice immediately and take steps to delete any they may have inadvertently placed in their online public file. A more detailed memo on this topic is available from Gregg Skall, of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP, at this link and on the Womble Carlyle Political GPS Blog.

For further information on political broadcasting requirements, you can download the Womble Carlyle political broadcasting manual at

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