This past week’s political news seemed to be all about Donald Trump and his possible run for the Presidency – and his plans to announce his intent to run on the season finale of The Apprentice.  When, a week ago, we wrote about the President declaring his candidacy, there was little interest in our post, and there seemed to be little news attention in general to that announcement.  But when Donald Trump started making noise about his possible Presidential run, and his plans to announce his intent on the season finale of The Apprentice in May, our phones started ringing, asking how can he do that?  My partner David Silverman was quoted in a Huffington Post article, while my analysis was misunderstood in a Hollywood Reporter legal blog (see why I was misunderstood below).  But the question remains – can Trump continue on The Apprentice while signaling his interest in running for President?

In fact, there is no FCC rule that prohibits a broadcaster from giving airtime to a political candidate on any kind of program, as long as they are willing to provide equal time to opposing candidates.  There may be other legal issues involved in giving time to a candidate as it may in effect be a deemed a campaign contribution to the candidate (an issue apparently for PACs as well, as explained by that legal scholar Steven Colbert, here), but the FCC’s equal time rules don’t prohibit the appearance of a candidate on an entertainment program, they only demand that the stations that broadcast the program give equal amounts of time to opposing candidates who ask for it – if the opponents ask for it within 7 days of the candidate’s appearance.  And that is often the first issue – will the opposing candidate ask for it?  None of the Republicans asked when cable networks continued to run episodes of Law and Order featuring Fred Thompson, even after Thompson declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination.  Nor did other candidates request time after there was a parade of candidate appearances on Saturday Night Live during the last election (see our post on this pattern of candidates passing on their equal time rights).  But would a Trump declaration of a candidacy on The Apprentice even face that minimal risk?  Probably not.


Continue Reading Donald Trump May Declare Presidential Candidacy on The Apprentice – FCC Legal Issues?

The New York Times just ran an article on the number of radio and television commentators who are also potential political candidates, speculating on whether the appearance of these candidates on TV and cable talk shows, and on radio programs, give them an advantage in their future political careers.  That perceived TV bump might be most in the news in the potential candidacy of Harold Ford in the Democratic Senate primary in New York, with his appearances on MSNBC (and this past weekend on Meet the Press on NBC, where he was part of a panel to talk about the week’s news, and was then asked about his future political plans).  But it is also evident in the almost daily parade of potential candidates on radio, TV and cable talk programs.  So, one might ask, what are the FCC implications of these appearances?

The week before last, we wrote on this question, in connection with on-air radio or TV performers who actually become candidates, and how a broadcast station should deal with those candidates and the equal opportunities obligations to opposing candidates that arise when these employee-candidates appear on the air.  But the question of when the equal opportunities obligations arise is one that we only touched on.  Under the FCC’s interpretation of the Section 315 of the Communications Act, the equal opportunities obligations arise once you have a legally qualified candidate – one who fulfills all of the obligations that a state imposes for securing a place on the ballot.  Usually, this involves the filing of certain papers, often with petitions signed by a specified number of registered voters, with a state’s Secretary of State by a given deadline.  Once the requirements established by the state have been met, the candidate is legally qualified and equal opportunities attach to any on air appearances outside the context of an exempt program (see our post here about those appearances, principally in news and interview programs, which are exempt from equal opportunities). 


Continue Reading When Potential Candidates Like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Harold Ford Are On Radio, TV and Cable – FCC Issues?