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Politics And Your Money

2012 is expected to be a very big political year and with that many radio stations are hoping to overcome quarter after quarter of flat revenue. Whether it's a high-ranking Washington lawmaker, a local city alderman or a special interest group, at this time next year station stopsets will be filled with so many political ads listeners won't know who's running for what office. And, if the ads are anything like recent history most of them will be negative, attack ads. And, of course, there are rules. As if enough money didn't flow their way, radio stations must also participate in the money flow to the almighty and offer the lowest unit rate possible. So exactly what are the rules and rates for what your station charges politicians.

Broadcast attorney John Garziglia answers that question for us:
Every so often, a local or national election rolls around and broadcast station managers must deal with the nuances of the FCCs lowest unit charge political time rules.  While it is impossible to neatly summarize the FCCs lowest unit charge rules, it is useful to cover several important points, and to note where further answers may be had.

First of all, for all but the easiest of political broadcasting questions, I routinely turn to one of the several publications on the subject available to broadcasters.  The National Association of Broadcasters has its Political Broadcast Catechism available at www.nabstore.com, my law firm has its Political Broadcast Manual available at www.commlaw.com, and my attorney colleagues have similar publications available.  It is difficult to remember all aspects of the FCCs political broadcasting law, let alone be knowledgeable in all of the exceptions, qualifications and FCC interpretations.  Having one of these publications close at hand is essential for any broadcaster responsible for FCC political rule compliance. 

Lowest unit charge is defined by the FCC as the lowest rate of the station for the same class and amount of time for the same period.  Or more simply put, lowest unit charge is generally the rate charged for one spot that the stations best advertiser would be charged no matter how many spots are purchased by such advertiser to obtain its rate for the same spot. 

Lowest unit charge applies to federal, state and local political candidate advertising time which runs during the 45 days before a primary, or 60 days before a general election.  For lowest unit charge to apply, the time purchase must be by a legally-qualified candidate, or his or her authorized representative, for a use which is defined for radio as the positive appearance of the candidates voice on a spot.  For federal candidates to be entitled to lowest unit charge, a certification must be provided that the spot will comply with certain additional federal sponsorship identification requirements regarding the mention of opposing candidates.

Once it is determined that lowest unit charges apply, a station must determine what are the various lowest unit charges based upon such factors as the requested class and amount of time, the time period in which the spot is to be run, whether the spot is preemptible or non-preemptible, how any package rates are factored in, and a variety of other considerations. 

The lowest unit charge can and often does vary.  Some stations try to simplify things by adopting a discounted political rate at which any political spot may be purchased that is at or lower than the lowest unit charge for any class of time.  This works but runs the risk of the station giving up revenue to which it is otherwise entitled. 

When questions arise regarding the FCCs political rules, and they will, if advice is not otherwise available from the NAB, a state broadcasters association, or a stations own communications counsel, a call or email to the FCCs  political programming staff will yield an answer at (202) 418-1440 or campaignlaw@fcc.gov.  The FCCs political programming staff is immensely helpful in interpreting the political broadcasting rules.  The FCCs staff would much rather receive a call in advance with an issue, than to deal with a complaint after the fact.  Finally, the FCCs political broadcasting statutes and rules in their entirety, but without interpretation, are available through a link at the bottom of www.fcc.gov/mb/policy/political

John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or jgarziglia@wcsr.com  Have a question for our "Ask The Attorney" feature? Send to edryan@radioink.com




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