The FCC’s political team of Robert Baker, Gary Schonman, and Sima Nilsson did a fantastic job going through the FCC’s requirements. Former NAB General Counsel and political broadcasting expert Jack Goodman was a tremendous host, asking all the right legal questions. Frankly, we could not cover all the issues in the hour-and-a-half session. Here are the major takeaways from the webinar:
Applicability: The rules apply to all full-power broadcasters (radio and TV) as well as Class A TV stations. LPTV stations do not have to keep an online political file. However, if your LPTV is accepting political advertising, it may be a good idea to keep a separate paper political file at the station.
Time of Filing: You must upload political file materials within one business day (excluding weekends) of receiving a full-fledged offer. This is an offer that meets all the requirements for broadcasting. You must upload it at the time the offer is received. Do not wait until you have accepted the offer. Do not wait until the spot is broadcast. You must upload it upon receipt of the offer. However, you need not upload requests by clients that are just discussing rates or avails.
Candidate Advertisements: You must file all full-fledged offers from federal, state, and local candidates. This includes offers that are made outside the lowest unit rate period.
Advertisement Purchased by Third Parties: Political advertisements for a federal candidate purchased by a third party, e.g. a Political Action Committee or other groups, must be placed in the political file. Importantly if such advertisements also discuss national issues of public importance, all of the issues must be listed in the political file.
National Issue Advertisements: You must file full-fledged political advertising offers that cover national issues of public importance. You must list all such issues that are included in the advertisements.
State Issue Advertisements: You do not have to list advertisements on issues that focus specifically on local issues, e.g., road repair, county bond issues, etc. However, there may be issues, such as gun control, that have both a local, state, and national component. The FCC will rely on a station’s good faith judgment as to whether the state advertisement involving this type of issue is placed in the political file.
Note, however, broadcasting any controversial issue of public importance requires stations to place the matter in its public file. So even if you do not list it in your political file, it may have to be placed in your general public file. In other words, you will have to file in a separate place.
Syndication and Network Programming: Radio and television stations may receive programs through syndication, and regional and national networks. Some of these networks sell issue advertisements as well as political advertising directly to candidates. While such advertisements were sold by the network, a station is responsible for including this information in its own political file. Stations need to make sure their program suppliers provide them with the necessary information relating to all political advertising.
Social Media and Online Media: FCC rules do not apply to political advertisements appearing solely on the Internet or social media platforms. However, the issue gets complex if a station sells a political advertisement and a social media/Internet as a single package.
Renewals: The FCC can easily discover when you uploaded your files. So, if you have missed a deadline, be careful at renewal time. There is a box on the license renewal asking if you have been in compliance with the public file rules during the license term. If you have been late with uploading political files, you should not check the box that you have been in full compliance. If you are in this situation, you should check with your communications counsel.
Consent Decrees: The FCC has issued a number of consent decrees for stations found to be in violation of the political file rules. A station receiving consent decrees must adopt a plan to come into compliance. Such a plan would include 1) the appointment of a compliance officer to oversee its political file; 2) additional political file training; 3) creating a station manual outlining the political file requirements and 4) preparing reports on a station’s compliance activities. If you receive a consent decree do not ignore it. Contact your communications attorney.