Political Notebook

Political Notebook: Shining light on political TV ads

Today is the day by which every TV station in the land is supposed to post online their “political file” — a list of who bought commercial airtime for political ads, and how much they spent.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in government information, before today people could get the political spending data, but only by going to each individual station and asking to look at the hard paper copies.

Compliance, however, isn't necessarily timely among the TV stations serving Fresno and the central San Joaquin Valley. Of the Big Four networks’ (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) affiliates in Fresno, only one — KMPH (Channel 26.1), the local Fox station — had posted its political files on the Federal Communications Commission’s website.

The only other local station to post was KFRE (Channel 59.1), an affiliate of The CW. Both KMPH and KFRE last updated their 2014 file three weeks ago.

The other 10 stations in the Fresno-Visalia market have not yet posted their files to the FCC database as of this midday. They include KFSN (Channel 30.1, ABC), KGPE (Channel 47.1, CBS) and KSEE (Channel 24.1, NBC). The local public television station, KVPT (Channel 18.1) hadn’t filed, either, but then again, it’s a non-commercial station, so it would be a surprise if they had filed.

“This represents a rare victory for transparency in a political system increasingly inundated with dark money,” wrote Jenn Topper, a spokeswoman for the Sunlight Foundation, in an email. In addition to sifting through the FCC’s online labyrinth, the Sunlight Foundation has created a Political Ad Sleuth page on its website where people can look up ad info for the Fresno-Visalia market.

Exactly what will you find once a station posts its data? You’ll get to see advertising orders and invoices for each candidate or campaign for their TV commercials, and how much they were charged for the airtime.

Not surprisingly, the turbocharged Fresno County District Attorney’s race between incumbent Elizabeth Egan and challenger Lisa Sondergaard-Smittcamp represent 26 of the 73 documents posted by KMPH to its FCC political file. The rest of the documents are a smattering of files for the governor’s race, other local and legislative races and non-candidate “issue ads” — often third-party PAC endorsement or attack commercials.

As they say in the broadcast biz: “stay tuned” as more data gets filed.