Last week, it was announced that the FCC would be considering some changes to its political broadcasting rules at its monthly open meeting in August. In some quarters (see, for example, this article), that raised concern that significant changes were coming in time for the 2022 Congressional elections. But, when the draft of the proposed changes was released last week, it turned out that the changes were instead very minor – almost ministerial. The proposed rule changes revise the Commission’s rules on two matters that are already part of the practices of stations and the lawyers who advise them on political broadcasting matters. Two changes are being proposed – one dealing with the showing that needs to be made by a write-in candidate to show that the candidate is “legally qualified” and entitled to take advantage of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules, and the second being just a rule change to conform FCC rules to statutory requirements that broadcasters include, in their online public files, information about the sale of advertising time to non-candidate buyers who convey a message on a matter of national importance, i.e., a federal issue ad.
The first proposal would add use of social media and creation of a campaign website to the factors specified in the rules as factors to consider when determining if a write-in candidate has made a “substantial showing” of a bona fide campaign for office so that they can be considered a “legally qualified candidate.” Legally qualified candidates, even write-ins who have made this substantial showing, are entitled to all the protections of the Commission’s political rules, including equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and, for candidates for federal office, reasonable access to buy advertising time on commercial broadcast stations. Looking at the online activities of an alleged candidate has already been part of the evaluation of whether write-in candidates have made a substantial showing of a “bona fide candidacy” – one demonstrating that the write-in candidate was conducting a serious campaign for office entitling them to the protections of the political rules. Just saying that you are a write-in candidate is not enough to qualify for protections under the FCC rules – a write-in candidate must also show that he or she is really conducting a serious campaign for office (see our article here). The facts set forth in that showing determine how serious the campaign is. Since the FCC’s list of activities in its rules is illustrative and not exhaustive, and since online activities are indicative of how serious a candidate is, stations were already reviewing online activities when assessing substantial showings. The FCC’s proposal would just make sure that what is already being done is spelled out in the rules.
Continue Reading FCC To Clarify Political Advertising Rules – No Significant Changes Proposed