Issue Advertisements: The Difference Between the FCC’s Federal and State Issue Ad Requirements

With the political season in full swing, a number of stations have asked questions about the placement of issue advertisements in their political file. These are advertisements not purchased by a candidate’s campaign committee but by a third party. Sometimes they may mention a candidate. Nonetheless, there are slightly different political file obligations concerning “federal issues” and “state issues.”

Noted communications attorney David Oxenford explained the obligation with respect to federal issue advertisements:

“[P]ublic file obligation for federal issue ads include the requirement that a station’s public file disclosures include a list of all of the federal candidates and issues mentioned in the ad. The FCC also imposed an affirmative obligation on the broadcaster to confirm with the federal issue advertiser that it does not have multiple executive officers or directors if the advertiser only provides one individual’s name. These obligations are in addition to the requirement that stations upload to their public file, within one business day of when an order for a federal issue ad is received, information about the order, including the price to be paid for the ads and the schedule that the buyer is requesting. Whether or not the order for ads addressing a federal issue is accepted by the station also must be uploaded to the public file.”

Whereas, the obligation for state and local issues advertisements is slightly different:

“Issue ads that do not deal with federal issues do not trigger any obligation to upload information about the price and schedule of an ad to a station’s online public file. Nor do state and local issue ads trigger the obligation to list every candidate and issue mentioned in the ad. But they do still require the public file identification of the sponsor of the ad, and the executive officers or directors of the sponsor when the sponsor is not an individual. Thus, ads dealing with state and local matters–like state ballot issues, local zoning controversies, or even ads that attack or support state or local candidates (when those ads are not bought by a candidate-authorized committee and do not address any federal issue)–only require the identification of the ad sponsor and its officers or directors in a document uploaded to the station’s political file.”

David Oxenford’s important blog article can be found here.