FCC Proposes to Clarify Political Rules at its August Meeting

The FCC’s  has political programming and record keeping rules for broadcast have not formally reviewed these rules since 1991. At its august meeting the Commission is looking at updating the rules to comply with statutory requirements and account for modern campaign practices.

Requirements for Legally Qualified “Write-in” Candidates:  The FCC proposes to update the definition of “legally qualified candidate for public office”as it relates to an individual running as a write-in candidate.

Only “qualified candidates” have the right to 1) access (federal candidates) under section 317, 2) assert   equal opportunities rules under section 315, and 3) obtain lowest unit rate for political advertisements during the relevant windows. As a result, determining whether a person is a qualified candidate is very important.  According to the Commission:

An individual seeking election (other than for President or Vice President) must publicly announce his or her intention to run for office, must be qualified to hold the office for which he or she is a candidate, and must have qualified for a place on the ballot or have publicly committed himself or herself to seeking election by the write-in method.

If seeking election by the write-in method, the candidate, must also make a “substantial showing” that he or she is a bona fide candidate for the office being sought. In this regard the Commission lists a number of requirements necessary to make a substantial showing. The proposed rule would add the use of social media and creation of a campaign website to the existing list of activities that may be considered in determining whether the candidate is qualified.

Additional Record Keeping for Issue Advertisement Requests:  Stations have long understood that requests for political time by a candidate must be placed in the station’s political file.  Previously, the FCC extended its record keeping requirements to cover advertising time relating to issues of national importance.  However, the Commission never enacted specific rules to provide guidance on the issue.  The FCC now proposes to adopt specific regulations regarding requests for time regarding issues of national importance:

“Specifically, we propose to revise these rules to require these entities to maintain in their online political inspection files not only records of each request for advertising time that is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office, but also for each request for advertising time that “communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance.” In addition, we propose to revise our rules to list the specific records that must be maintained in online political files for both candidate ads and issue ads, consistent with list enumerated in section 315(e)(2)”

Today, a station must include the following information in its political file regarding requests for time by a political candidate:

(1) whether the request to purchase broadcast time is accepted or rejected by the licensee;

(2) the rate charged for the broadcast time;

(3) the date and time on which the communication is aired;

(4) the class of time that is purchased;

(5) the name of the candidate to which the communication refers and the office to which the candidate is seeking election, the election to which the communication refers, or

(6) in the case of a request made by, or on behalf of, a candidate, the name of the candidate, the authorized committee of the candidate, and the treasurer of such committee; and

(7) in the case of any other request, the name of the person purchasing the time, the name, address, and phone number of a contact person for such person, and a list of the chief executive officers or members of the executive committee or of the board of directors of such person.

Extending these or similar requirements to “issue adverting” requests would at least provide some clarification for stations. Nonetheless, the issue bears watching to make sure unnecessary burdens are not imposed on stations.

To see the FCC proposed rules to be discussed at its August meeting click HERE.

To see an analysis by noted FCC attorney David Oxenford click HERE.


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