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2019 – 2020 Political Issue Advertising The Blessing and the Curse!

With the 2020 election less than a year away, the FCC rules on issue advertising and online public file reporting just got more complicated.

Last month, the FCC finally resolved 11 issue ad complaints that had been filed jointly by the Campaign Legal Center and Sunlight Foundation against television stations back in 2014. The FCC order provides new, detailed guidelines that clarify the Commission’s expectations regarding information required to be placed in the station’s political online public file for any Political Matter of National Importance.

In considering whether an advertisement constitutes a Political Matter of National Importance, the Commission will analyze whether the broadcast message contains two requirements that trigger a licensee’s disclosure obligations. First, the message must be “political” in nature. Second, it must be of “national importance,” meaning it must have significance on a national level.

A licensee must make available for public inspection any request to purchase broadcast time that communicates a message relating to any Political Matter of National Importance, including :

  1. All legally qualified candidates mentioned and the offices they are seeking. The Commission noted that this refers only to federal candidates, although some ads concerning state and local candidates may qualify as raising a Political Matter of National Importance.

  2. All elections for federal office mentioned. The Commission advised the ad may state an elective office, or refer to it in some other way such as “our person in Washington.”

  3. All “national legislative issues of public importance” mentioned. The Commission defined a “national legislative issue of public importance” as any matter that is the subject of controversy or discussion at the national level. A “national legislative issue of pubic importance” is narrower than a Political Matter of National Importance. It includes issues that are the subject of federal legislation that have been introduced and are pending in Congress at the time the request for airtime is made.

These clarifications demand a substantial amount of information that many diligent broadcasters have not previously collected. Ads for any Political Matter of National Importance now require the station to place the following information in its political online public file:

  1. Whether the request to purchase broadcast time is accepted or rejected by the licensee;

  2. The rate charged for the broadcast time;

  3. The date and time in which the communication was aired;

  4. The class of time purchased;

  5. The name of the candidate to which the communication refers, the office to which the candidate is seeking election and the election to which the communication refers;

  6. The issue or issues to which the communication refers ( all issues discussed must be listed);

  7. For a request made by, or on behalf of a candidate, the name of the candidate, the authorized committee of the candidate, and the treasurer of such committee; and

  8. In the case of any other request, the name of the entity purchasing the time, the name, address and phone number of a contact person for such entity, and a list of the Chief Executive Officers or members of the Executive Committee or of the Board of Directors for such entity. Where the station has a reasonable basis for believing that this sponsor information appears to be incomplete, it has an affirmative obligation to request additional information from the entity sponsoring the ad or the third party buyer of advertising time acting on the entity’s behalf. While the response is not required to be placed in the public file, broadcasters should obtain the response in writing and maintain it as evidence of its effort.

A more detailed memo and a revised form for political issue advertising that requests information to meet these requirements can be found here --------. Make certain that anyone wishing to place such advertising with you completes the form in its entirety. Following the issue advertising broadcast, complete the rest of the form including the actual broadcast schedule.

Copyright © 2020 Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume IX, Number 312


About this Author

Gregg Skall, Attorney Womble Carlyle, Telecommunications Attorney, FCC Regulatory Compliance Lawyer

Mr. Skall actively represents telecommunications companies in domestic and international telecommunications enterprises in their regulatory matters and business dealings. He represents real estate developers in the acquisition of competitive broadband local exchange (CLEC) telecommunications services for new residential and commercial developments. He also works with telecommunications equipment manufacturers to obtain FCC approvals and to assure regulatory compliance. He assists companies in need of appropriate spectrum support for emerging telecommunications...