Celebrate a rare victory for transparency in American politics. Voters weigh candidates in a system awash in money, but it is cumbersome at best to find who wrote the checks.

Free Press and other public-interest groups nudged the Federal Communications Commission into providing access to local records of who purchased political ads on television.

TV stations have long been required to maintain so-called political files to record who bought ads and how much they paid, but getting into those records was an obstacle course. Barriers included sloppy record keeping and high copying fees.

Last spring, the FCC was convinced to have broadcasters open online files, which covers new information as of Aug. 2. The four major networks in the top 50 markets launched the process Aug. 2. All other stations in the country must be online no later than 2014.

Predictably, the National Association of Broadcasters is challenging the rules, and Free Press is helping push back.

Indeed, Free Press is working with the Sunlight Foundation and the New America Foundation to rally volunteers to wade into the exempted files at smaller stations.

Spectacular sums will be sent during the 2012 election season to sell candidates to voters. Americans have, and continue to have, precious little information about the people providing all that money for their candidates and their causes.

Credit Free Press and others with tugging at the curtain obscuring the facts.

— The Seattle Times, Aug. 5

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