Some ominous news:
Three-quarters of Americans have either heard "a little" (36 percent) or "nothing at all" (39 percent) about "increased spending in this year’s presidential election by outside groups not associated with the candidates or campaigns." In an even more stunning finding, when prompted with four choices as to what a super PAC actually was, just four in 10 said it was "a group able to accept unlimited political donations" — the right answer. Forty-six percent had no opinion or didn’t know what a super PAC was, while 9 percent said it was a name for the congressional committee charged with reducing the deficit (that’s the "supercommittee"), and another 4 percent said it was a term for the government cleanup at hazardous waste sites (superfund). One percent of those tested said a super PAC was a "video game for a smart phone."
It is difficult to get an overall picture of spending by a single campaign, super PAC, or other outside group. You can only search by station name, network affiliation, or channel number, not by, say, typing in the name of the political campaign or outside group that bought an ad. I asked the FCC about this and an agency official who declined to be named said that "plans are to have a search function shortly but the scope is yet undetermined."
Then there’s the fact that, as we’ve previously noted, the FCC declined to require broadcasters to upload files in a single format. That means that it won’t be easy to aggregate data and analyze it in volume. That’s in contrast, for example, to federal election filings, which are uploaded in a single, so-called "machine-readable" format that can be analyzed with computers. The head of the FCC’s media bureau has said that putting the files in a single format is a "long-term goal." The new FCC website is also still under construction. The "Help" section, for example, is blank.