We’re not even in what most would consider election season – except for the two states with off-year governor’s contests and those other states with various state and municipal elections. Yet political ads are running on broadcast stations across the country. Republican groups have announced plans to run ads attacking certain Democratic Congressmen who are perceived as vulnerable, while certain Democratic interest groups have run ads about the positions of Republicans on the Obama stimulus package and the President’s proposed budget. In addition to these ads targeting specific potential candidates, there are issue ads running across the country on various issues pending before Congress, or likely to be considered by Congress in the near term. These ads often have a tag line “write or call your Congressman and tell him to vote No” on whatever bill is being discussed. While these are not ads for political candidates that require lowest unit rates or specific equal opportunities, they do give rise to political file issues. Stations need to remember to observe these requirements and put the required information into their public file to avoid FCC issues.
Under provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, when a station runs an ad addressing a “Federal issue”, the station must keep in its public file essentially all the same information about the ad that it would maintain for a candidate ad. The station must identify the spot and the schedule that its sponsor has purchased, the identify of the sponsor (name, address and list of principal executive officers or directors), the class of time purchased, and the price paid for the ads. Federal issues are ones that deal with a Federal election or with any issue to be considered by Congress or any Federal government agency.
Even ads dealing with state or local issues (e.g. school bond issues, zoning disputes, state ballot initiatives) require some public file disclosures. While stations do not need to provide information about the entire schedule and the price of spots purchased in connection with controversial issues of state or local importance, they do need to maintain in their public file a list of the sponsoring organization’s chief executive officers, the members of its executive committee, or its directors. Maintain those files – and stay out of potential FCC trouble.