Political Advertising ......


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  • Political Advertising includes communications supporting or opposing a candidate, an office holder, a political party, or a measure (a ballot proposition).
  • Legislative Advertising is a communication that supports, opposes or proposes legislation. Sometimes referred to as Issue/Ballot Advertising, legislative advertising targets particular issues and referenda before voters or a governing body. There are no FCC mandated rules regarding this advertising, with the exception of disclaimer and public file requirements.
  • Federal elections are those for Senate, Congress and President. Rules and guidelines established by the FCC were created specifically for these offices.
  • Non-Federal offices range from governor and state senator to sheriff and judge. Many, but not all, of the same rules governing federal elections apply to these races.


Legally Qualified Candidate


  • The person must be eligible under the U.S. Constitution (Federal Candidates) or under local law to hold the office sought.
  • The person must have publicly announced his or her candidacy.

Candidate "use" of a broadcast station is any "positive" appearance of a candidate's identifiable voice / or picture. Determination of "use" is important because it defines whether (1) a candidate can receive access to the station (2) whether the station is obligated to afford equal opportunities to a candidate's opponents and (3) whether the candidate is entitled to the station's lowest unit charge.


Reasonable Access

Section 312(a)(7) of the Communications Act of 1934 requires that a commercial broadcast licensee afford federal candidates "reasonable access" to its station facilities. This is an absolute legal right of access enjoyed by federal candidates only; that is, candidates for President, Vice President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Candidates for non-federal offices (e.g., Governor, Mayor, state legislature, etc.) do not have a legal right of access. However, the Federal Communications Commission has indicated a station must keep in mind its "public interest" obligations of reporting important state or local races. Once a licensee decides to make time available to a non-federal candidate, it is required to comply with all regulatory obligations, including equal opportunity and lowest unit charge.


Equal Opportunity

Section 315(a) of the Communications Act of 1924 provides that is a licensee permits a "legally qualified candidate" to "use" a station, then "equal opportunities" to use the station must be provided to the candidate's opponents. This applies to all legally qualified candidates in both primary and general elections, federal, state, and local. The right to equal opportunities applies only to "opposing candidates." In a general election this means candidates running for the same office. In a primary election this means candidates of the same party running for nomination for the same office.

The doctrine of equal opportunity imposes two basic obligations on the licensees

  • Licensees upon request must afford opposing candidates the same opportunities to use a station's facilities...not that opposing candidates are entitled to the identical time period or program, but that they are entitled to broadcast time of "comparable desirability."
  • Licensees may not discriminate in any manner among opposing candidates when providing broadcast time... .i.e. licensees must treat political candidates in a fair, impartial and consistent fashion.


Licensees are not required to notify candidates of their entitlement to equal opportunities. Rather, candidates must timely request their equal opportunity rights within seven days of the first prior use by an opposing candidate.


The Zapple Doctrine - Quasi-Equal Opportunities for Candidate Supporters

The Federal Communications Commission has extended the equal opportunity principle to situation where a candidate does not make defined "use" of a station's facilities, but where spokespersons or supporters of a candidate (e.g., an independent political committee) buy time or appear on a broadcast for the purpose for the purpose of either supporting the candidate, criticizing an opponent or discussing campaign issues. In such a situation, when a candidate "use" has not occurred, the "Zapple Doctrine" nevertheless affords the spokespersons or supporters of an opposing candidate equal opportunity to a comparable amount of time in which to respond. The lowest unit charge requirements do not apply in such a case because there is no "use" by a candidate.

Lowest Unit Charge (LUC)

  • Lowest Unit Charge (LUC) was established by the FCC in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to protect legally qualified candidates from excessive advertising costs
  • Section 315(b) of the Act requires licensees to charge all legally qualified candidates no more than the lowest unit charge for each class and amount of time for the same period for a "use" of a station, thus ensuring that low rates, available to regular commercial advertisers, are also available to politicians, regardless of when they place their schedules (within the political protection period).

Political Protection Period

  • Begins 45 days prior to a primary election
  • Begins 60 days prior to a general election.


Creative Requirements

All candidate political ads require the following:


  • A disclaimer identifying the candidate and the name of the committee paying for the ad
  • For television, the disclaimer must appear on the screen for a minimum of 4 seconds and letters must measure at least 4% of the vertical picture height. Television stations may use audio identification in addition to, but not as a substitute for, visual identification.
  • For radio, audio identification must be clearly audible and of sufficient length to reasonably convey the specific identity of the person or entity buying the time.
  • The candidate must appear in the ad stating that they authorize or approve the ad


Political File Requirements

Stations are required to maintain files, open to the public, which include:


  • A copy of all requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office.
  • Names of officers of organizations that pay for or furnish programs or announcements
  • Copies of air schedules including rates paid and any rebates given
  • With the exception of a notation of the time a spot actually aired, the required material must be placed in the public file immediately
  • Political records in the public file may be inspected and copied just like any other material in the file

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