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FCC Updates Political Programming, Recordkeeping Rules

New rules go into effect March 14

In an effort to reflect modern campaign practices and increase transparency, the Federal Communications Commission has updated its rules about political programming and recordkeeping. The change takes effect March 14.

In late January, the Media Bureau at the commission released the order changing the way broadcast licensees, cable TV system operators, DBS providers and satellite radio licensees update their political programming and recordkeeping information.

It expanded the definition of the term “legally qualified candidate for public office” in an effort to better determine if a write-in candidate has made a substantial showing of a bona fide candidacy.

[Related: “FCC Adopts Revised Political Broadcast Rules”]

Generally, in order to be considered a legally qualified candidate, an individual must publicly announce an intention to run for office, as well as be qualified to hold the office and either have qualified for a space on the ballot or have publicly committed themselves to seeking election as a write-in. If they’re seeking election by write-in, they must make a clear, substantial showing that they are actually running for office.

The rule update adds two items to the existing list of activities that a station can use to determine if a write-in candidate has a bona fide candidacy. One is the use of social media; the other is the creation of a campaign website. Other previously listed activities include making campaign speeches, distributing campaign literature, issuing press releases, maintaining a campaign committee and establishing a campaign headquarters.

In its order, the commission also amended its political file rules. It requires entities to maintain not only records of each request for advertising time but also records of each request for advertising time that communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance.

It also amended the rules to specify which records must be maintained in online political files for both candidate ads and issue ads. These records include:

  • whether the request to purchase advertising time is accepted or rejected by the licensee
  • the rate charged for the advertising time
  • the date and time on which the communication aired
  • the class of time that is purchased
  • the name of the candidate to which the communication refers and the office to which the candidate is seeking election or the election to which the communication refers or the issue to which the communication refers
  • the name of the candidate, the authorized committee of the candidate and the treasurer of such committee
  • the name of the person purchasing the time; the name, address and phone number of a contact person; and a list of the chief executive officers or members of the executive committee or of the board of directors of such person

“These revisions ensure that the political recordkeeping rules fully and accurately reflect statutory requirements [and will] foster greater transparency about the entities sponsoring candidate and issue ads,” the commission wrote.