FCC Tweaks Political Broadcasting Rules

Posted on January 31st, 2022 by

In a unanimously-adopted order issued January 25, the FCC updated its political programming and recordkeeping rules for broadcast licensees and others.

Specifically, the FCC revised the definition of “legally qualified candidate for public office” by adding the use of social media and creation of a campaign website to the existing list of activities that may be considered by stations in determining whether an individual running as a write-in candidate has made a “substantial showing” of his/her bona fide candidacy.

In addition, the FCC amended its political file rules to align with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, formally extending the FCC’s political file requirements to any request for the purchase of advertising time that “communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance” (i.e., issue ads).  The BCRA requirements had been enforced by the FCC in the past even though they weren’t officially part of the FCC’s rules.  But now they are.  The records that must be placed in the political file for an issue ad are:  (a) whether the request to purchase broadcast time is accepted or rejected; (b) the rate charged for the broadcast time; (c) the date and time the communication is aired; (d) the class of time purchased; (e) the issue to which the communication refers; and (f) the name of the person purchasing the time, the name/address/ phone of a contact person for that individual, and a list of the chief executive officers or members of the executive committee or of the board of directors of the group purchasing the time.

The FCC has emphasized compliance with the political recordkeeping rules during the current renewal cycle, requiring hundreds of stations to enter into consent decrees for failure to comply.  Those decrees impose numerous new obligations for political or issues ads, including reporting any violation, adopting compliance manuals, conducting employee training, and filing compliance reports.