sponsorship identifcation of PAC ad

To help broadcasters sort out the confusing rules about political advertising, we have updated our Political Broadcasting Guide for Broadcasters (note that the URL for the updated version has not changed from prior versions, so your bookmarks should continue to work). The revised guide is much the same as the one that we published two years ago, formatted as Questions and Answers to cover many of the issues that come up for broadcasters in a political season. This guide is only that – a guide to the issues and not a definitive answer to any of the very fact-dependent legal issues that arise in election season. But we hope that this guide at least provides a starting point for the analysis of issues, so that station employees have a background to discuss these matters with ad buyers and their own attorneys.

In looking at the Guide that we prepared two years ago, really not much has changed. But there are some specific updates that should be noted. For instance, sponsorship identification seems to be a hot issue in the last two years. We wrote here about the $540,000 fine paid as part of a consent decree when a Cumulus radio station did not fully identify the sponsor of advertising on a controversial issue of public importance. We have also written here and here about issues that are currently pending at the FCC about the proper sponsorship identification tag that belongs on an ad paid for by a PAC that is funded by one individual. This is an issue to which stations should be alert. The online public file for radio is mentioned, as this will affect how radio broadcasters maintain their political file starting at some point later this year (see our article here about the online public file requirements for radio broadcasters). Also, we note the adoption by many stations of programmatic selling, and suggest that stations need to carefully review how these sales platforms may impact lowest unit rate issues. We have made some other clarifications and revisions as well.
Continue Reading Updated Political Broadcasting Guide – Questions and Answers about Broadcasters’ Obligations During this Election Season

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives last week proposes that the FCC be required to amend its sponsorship identification rules to require not just the name of the sponsor of an ad addressing “a controversial issue of public importance,” but also the names of any “significant donors” to the

Even though the election is over, political broadcasting issues have not stopped.  Yesterday, the same groups (the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, and the Sunlight Foundation) that had previously objected to the sponsorship identification of issue ads funded by PACs with a limited donor base have struck again.  This time, they have filed a complaint with the FCC against a Chicago TV station claiming that it should have identified former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg as the true sponsor of an ad run by a PAC. That PAC stated on its website that it had been formed by the former mayor and, from its FEC filings, it appears that it was 100% funded by Mr. Bloomberg.

The complaint differs from complaints filed earlier this year about similar ads in that, in this case, the station was given written notice by the Petitioner of the claim that the sponsorship identification should have included Mr. Bloomberg.  In previous cases, no such notice had been given to the station (the lack of such prior notice resulting in the FCC’s rejection of the initial set of complaints filed by this group, see our article here).  In addition, this is the first complaint where it appears that the PAC in question was 100% funded by a single individual.  See, for instance, our article here, where we asked in connection with previous complaints where the PACs in question were not 100% funded by a single individual how a station was supposed to know at what point the individual donor needed to be identified, and when there were a sufficient number of other donors that the identification of the groups as the true sponsor was proper.  Will these factual differences mandate a different result from the FCC?
Continue Reading The Election is Over, But the Complaints Keep Coming – Should Michael Bloomberg Have Been Identified as the True Sponsor of an Ad Run by his PAC?

Just a month ago, the FCC denied complaints alleging that Washington DC  TV stations had not adequately identified the true sponsor of political ads sponsored by a political action committee.  When that decision came down – denied on procedural grounds by the Commission – we warned that it opened the door to more complaints in the current election cycle.  Sure enough, a new complaint has been filed against one of the same DC stations, contending that in the current election cycle, it should have gone beyond the sponsorship identification of the PAC itself as the sponsor of the ad, and instead identified the sponsor as the individual who contributed the majority of the PAC’s funding. 

The complaint, filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, the same DC public interest groups that filed the previous complaints, alleges that WJLA-TV failed in identifying the true sponsor of ads by the Next Gen Climate Action Committee as Tom Steyer, the individual who they allege (based on FEC disclosures) provided the majority of the funding for the PAC.  In last month’s decision, the FCC rejected a similar petition about the same PAC, deciding not to pursue the complaint as the station was not directly put on notice of the allegations raised in the complaints before the ads ran.  In the new petition, the petitioners don’t allege that they made any contact with the station to alert the station about their new complaints.  Instead, the complaint alleges that the TV station should have known about the issues because it is the same PAC that was named in last year’s complaint, and the station should have known about the petitioners allegations that the sponsorship tag is incorrect.  But is there a real issue here?
Continue Reading Another FCC Complaint about the True Sponsor of a PAC Political Ad – What’s a Station to Do?