FREE THE AD FILES! In April, the Federal Communications Commission took a significant step toward modernizing political ad disclosure by requiring television broadcasters to post their public inspection files to a central database on the FCC’s website. These files—previously available only on paper, and obtainable only by visiting local stations—contain detailed information about political ad buys, including who is purchasing them, how much they cost and when the spots are set to run, offering the public a rare window into the void of dark money in politics. But when the FCC database went live on August 2, the files were not “machine readable,” making it impossible to search by candidate or group to get a picture of who is spending how much and where.
With your help, two campaigns aim to remedy this situation. ProPublica’s Free the Files project has launched a crowd-sourced effort to review ad files from thirty-three swing markets nationwide. According to senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora, nearly 350 volunteers “freed” some 2,500 files detailing more than $160 million in spending in the project’s first week, all of which are now searchable on ProPublica’s website.
For now, the FCC requires only affiliates of the top four national broadcasters in the top fifty markets to upload files, and even they are required to include only those ad requests and purchases made since the rule took effect. To fill the coverage gap, the Political Ad Sleuth campaign, led by the Sunlight Foundation and Free Press, is mobilizing volunteers to add and analyze station files from every market to create a searchable database of its own.
Visit propublica.org/freethefiles and politicaladsleuth.com for details on how you can help shine some light on dark money in politics. JEFF ERNSTHAUSEN
A REPRIEVE FOR JUVENILE LIFERS: On September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which will give a second chance to prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed as teenagers. There are some 2,500 such prisoners in the United States, 300 in California alone. Introduced by State Senator Leland Yee, who has fought for years on behalf of juvenile lifers, the law gives these people a chance to seek parole twenty-five years into their sentence.
Partly inspired by the case of Sara Kruzan, now 34, who was sentenced to life without parole after killing her abusive pimp at age 16, the law comes months after the Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences for kids in Miller v. Alabama. California, which did not have such a statute on its books, is following a national trend toward a more humane way of dealing with young offenders. LILIANA SEGURA
MODEST PROPOSALS: “Several months ago I was contacted by the staff of a very wealthy man I refer to here as Thurston H,” writes Kurt Opprecht at the start of his new e-book, The Billionaires’ Manifesto. “They told me Mr. H. was looking for an unaffiliated writer to help him ‘galvanize his prosperous comrades into action to reclaim what has always been theirs.’”