If you’d like to know how campaigns and outside groups are using TV ads to influence Hawaii elections, look no further than our version “The Public File.”

Every local broadcast station is required by law to keep a public file with documents showing who’s bought air time, when the ads will air and how much they paid. It’s an important transparency tool, especially in the wake of the Citizens United ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money for independent campaigns supporting or attacking candidates and issues.

The Federal Communications Commission recently ordered TV stations to begin posting political ad spending information online, beginning with the top 50 markets. Now, people have to visit each station and ask to see numerous individual files to find out. By law, the so-called public files must be made public.

Broadcasters opposed the ruling, citing burdensome costs associated with digitizing such records and wanting to keep advertising rates a secret from competitors.

The ruling is a positive development. But Hawaii is not a top 50 market — we’re No. 71. That means our local stations, according to the FCC rule, can wait until July 1, 2014 to start posting the information online.

In the meantime, we have a slate of important races and issues to be decided in our fall elections: a mayor’s race that could affect the fate of the Honolulu rail project, a rare open U.S. Senate seat and two congressional races, to name a few.

One company, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, has been posting political ad info online for the past few months.

But none of Hawaii’s local broadcasters — KITV, KHON, KGMB, KHNL, KFVE — make their information available online. None would tell us whether they plan to post documents online before the 2014 deadline.

We like the idea of seeing public data posted online. We think letting the public see who’s paying for political TV ads is part of a healthy democracy.

Since TV stations won’t put this information online, Civil Beat decided to do it ourselves.

Every week, we’ll visit the stations, pay for paper copies of the public file, scan them in to our system and publish them online.

Highlights From the File

Here are some highlights from our first sweep, which includes records on file as of Thursday:

Expect to see a lot of Mayor Peter Carlisle in the weeks preceding the Aug. 11 primary. He’s spent $110,000 for 380 30-second spots on local networks. His ads will run from the last week of June through the primary.

Carlisle bought most of his time during local news broadcasts. The primetime ads during the 10 p.m. news on Hawaii News Now cost him $800 per 30-second spot.

His competitors Kirk Caldwell and Ben Cayetano aren’t showing up much yet, but it’s still early.

In the race for the 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Bob Marx spent nearly $33,300 on ads that ran in February and March on KGMB and KHNL. Marx also paid $14,500 to Oceanic Time Warner Cable for 331 spots that ran from February to April.

Looking forward, Marx has spent $16,640 for 256 spots that will run on cable channels in May and June. He has also spent another $6,650 for 14 spots on KITV, which will run from June 12 to June 26.

Marx’ chief rivals, former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann and Honolulu City Council member Tulsi Gabbard have not bought any TV ads yet. But Gabbard is watching others’ expenditures closely. A member of her campaign visits the local TV stations every week to view the public file, according to the sign-in sheets.

In the race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Mazie Hirono spent $60,911 on local TV and cable ads for one week in February. But she has not reserved any TV spots recently. Neither has her Democratic rival Ed Case.

Republican Senate candidate Linda Lingle has not bought any TV ads, the records show. But she doesn’t need to. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is campaigning on her behalf. The chamber has already spent more than $300,000 on local TV ads promoting her candidacy that ran in February.

The chamber announced this week that it plans another campaign ad blitz for Lingle this month. So far, records on file with the local stations show $136,215 for 609 spots between May 10 and May 23 on KHON, KITV and Hawaii News Now stations.

The only other significant independent expenditures were made by the Pacific Resource Partnership, which represents Hawaii carpenters.

The group has been running several pro-rail ads and has bought 345 additional ad spots on KITV for $96,600. Those ads will run May 13 through Aug. 10 and are slated to run during popular shows including the Desperate Housewives Finale — when a 30-second spot costs $2,000.

PRP has also booked time during the Billboard Music Awards, Dancing With The Stars, the NBA finals, and Modern Family.