Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

Political broadcasting advisory — May 2014

More than 10 years after adoption of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, popularly known as ‘McCain-Feingold’, Congress’s and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) interest in political broadcasting and political advertising practices remains undiminished. Broadcast stations must ensure 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 favourably than the station treats its most favoured 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 ensure full compliance and that they remain vigilant in monitoring 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 routinely provided to candidates and their committees in each station’s carefully prepared Political Advertising Disclosure Statement.

Many of the political broadcasting regulations are grounded in the ‘reasonable access’, ‘equal opportunities’ and ‘lowest unit charge’ (LUC) 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-favoured 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…

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