'Vast wasteland' FCC chairman troubled by political advertising

Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, appears before the House Antitrust Subcommittee which is probing newspaper competition, March 13, 1963, in Washington, D.C.

The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works at the institute.

(CNN)The Federal Communications Commissions should compel all groups that sponsor advertising aimed at influencing political campaigns to publicly disclose the sources of their funding, says its former chairman.

Newton Minow, an attorney and one of the FCC's early and most influential leaders, says the agency has the power to force outside groups who spend hundreds of billions of dollars on campaign-related advertising ads to reveal who is paying for them.
Many groups, legally created as "social welfare" organizations to "educate" the public on issues, escape campaign disclosure requirements.
    Minow, along with his former general counsel at the FCC, has petitioned the agency to "be more aggressive in enforcing the disclosure requirements" currently in place.
    "I think it's very unfortunate that they haven't done more," Minow, who led the agency in the early 1960s, told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files" podcast, produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.
    "I'm very upset about television and politics because I think the system that we have where you can dominate television by how much money you can spend is a bad system," he said.
    During the hour-long conversation with Axelrod, Minow, best known for his landmark speech in 1961 challenging broadcast executives to make television more than a "vast wasteland," said the wide variety of choices today through broadcast, cable and satellite television, had improved the offerings to consumers.
    "There's plenty of junk on television, but there's plenty of choice," said the former FCC chair, who led the expansion of television to UHF channels, the development of public television and the launch of communications satellites.
    But Minow said the U.S. government should phase out Radio Marti, the radio station set up by President Ronald Reagan to broadcast in Spanish on Cuban airwaves.
    "They don't need that," Minow said. "They should [phase it out]."Minow, who has counseled American political leaders for seven decades, recalled Barack Obama from his year as a young summer associate at his Chicago law firm and later. And Minow drew a comparison between Obama's qualities and the those of the president Minow served.
    "Jack Kennedy... had that same confidence, he had that same intelligence, he had that same will and strength," Minow said.
    To hear the whole conversation with Minow, which also touched on the clandestine role he and his agency played during the Cuban missile crisis and his personal reminiscences of Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson and others, click on http://podcast.cnn.com. To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles.