Thanks to the Communications Act of 1934, broadcast TV stations must make public certain details of TV ads containing political candidates and issue advocacy. This includes the cost and run times of an ad buy, as well as basic information about the sponsor’s officers.
Inspire America, however, was nowhere to be found in FCC records.
Next, the Center for Public Integrity scoured Federal Election Commission databases for any mention of or reference to a political group named Inspire America.
Web searches? Equally unfruitful.
The Center for Public Integrity then contacted the station where the ad aired. An employee referred questions to Marcell Felipe, general counsel for WFUN and WJAN, co-owned Spanish-language stations that had aired Inspire America’s ad.
Felipe said the ad — which aired 14 times on WFUN just before the March 15 primary — was not political, but instead a “public service announcement” to encourage voter turnout.
Therefore, he argued, his station wasn’t required to provide federal regulators with information about the ad or its sponsor, Inspire America.
But how could this be?
The ad, after all, featured two “legally qualified candidates” and addresses an “issue of national importance” — factors the FCC say triggers automatic disclosure.
The Center for Public Integrity pressed Felipe on this point. It was not until several correspondences later that Felipe revealed what he had withheld to that point: he was the true sponsor of the ad.
It was Felipe, too, who founded Inspire America — what he says is a new 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit. The group has yet to appear in Internal Revenue Service records, and such nonprofits are not supposed to make politics their primary purpose.
Felipe appeared nonplussed when informed about disclosure requirements.
“If we are told that we have to disclose it, we’ll disclose it,” said Felipe, who deemed the ad a “get out the vote” ad. He said he would consult with an FCC lawyer about disclosing this particular ad.
And as general counsel of the very station that ran the ads, Felipe said he convinced WFUN to run the ad at no charge, given the ad’s supposed “public service announcement” status.
Having acknowledged being behind the ad, Felipe explained why he produced it.