While many broadcasters’ thoughts are on holiday celebrations, the political process leading to the 2016 elections marches on. Last week, Bobby Baker, the head of the FCC’s Office of Political Programming and I conducted a webinar for broadcasters in 16 states on the legal issues that need to be considered in connection with the upcoming political season. The slides from that presentation are available here.
The week before last, I wrote about some of the issues that broadcasters should already be considering in connection with the 2016 election. With Lowest Unit Charge windows either open or to open this month in Iowa and New Hampshire, and windows opening in South Carolina and Nevada in the first week in January, stations need to be paying attention to their political obligations. Even though political windows are not yet open in other states, stations in these other states nevertheless need to pay attention to their political obligations. As I explained in the webinar, those windows apply only to Lowest Unit Rates. All other political obligations, including reasonable access for Federal candidates, equal opportunities, and the no censorship provisions of the rules apply once you have legally qualified candidates – not just during political windows. See our article here and here on that subject.I’ve already received calls from stations trying to figure out who is legally qualified and who is not. Usually, it is a simple matter of determining if the purported candidate has filed the papers to qualify for a place on the ballot in a particular state. In the Presidential race, there is a special rule that says that a candidate who qualifies in 10 states is deemed qualified in all states. With the primary deadlines coming up very soon, many if not all of the major Presidential candidates will have already met that threshold for the primaries or will do so very soon. In caucus states, which in some cases don’t have requirements that candidates pre-qualify to be considered at the caucus, sometimes it is difficult to ascertain whether a candidate is legally qualified. There, the FCC requires that a candidate make a substantial showing of his or her candidacy by demonstrating that they are actively organizing in a state, that they have had campaign rallies, distributed literature, run ads, or otherwise demonstrated that they are actively campaigning in that state. This substantial showing test is also applied to write-in candidates. See our article here about the “substantial showing” test.