This Advisory provides a review of the FCC’s political broadcasting regulations.
Eight years after adoption of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA”) of 2002, popularly known as “McCain-Feingold,” Congress’ and the FCC’s interest in political broadcasting and political advertising practices remains undiminished. Broadcast stations must insure that a broad range of federal mandates are met, providing “equal opportunities” to all candidates using the stations facilities, affording federal candidates for public office “reasonable access” and treating all candidates for public office no less favorably than the station treats its most favored advertisers. Accordingly, it is imperative that broadcasters be very familiar with what is expected of them in this regulatory area, that they have adequate policies and practices in place to insure full compliance, and that they remain vigilant to legislative, FCC, and FEC changes in the law.
In this environment, it is critical that all stations adopt and meticulously apply political broadcasting policies that are consistent with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including the all-important requirement that stations fully and accurately disclose in writing their rates, classes of advertising, and sales practices to candidates. That information should be contained in each station’s carefully prepared Political Advertising Disclosure Statement which should be routinely provided to candidates and their committees.
Many of the political broadcasting regulations are grounded in the “reasonable access,” “equal opportunities,” and “lowest unit charge” provisions of the Communications Act. These elements of the law ensure that broadcast facilities are available to candidates for federal offices, that broadcasters treat competing candidates equally, and that stations provide candidates with the rates they offer to their most-favored commercial advertisers during specified periods prior to an election. As a general rule, stations may not discriminate between candidates as to station use, the amount of time given or sold, or in any other meaningful way. While this Advisory will outline some of the general aspects of the political broadcasting rules, there are dozens of possible variations on any one issue. Accordingly, stations should contact legal counsel with any specific questions or problems they may encounter.
A PDF version of this entire article can be found at Political Broadcasting Advisory.