Advertisers Push FEC on Nonpolitical Ads Featuring Candidates

Advertisers have told the Federal Election Commission that the Supreme Court's decision on electioneering communications was a broad assertion of First Amendment rights and should not be narrowed by proposed FEC rules meant to implement that decision.

Oct. 1 was the deadline for comment on the FEC's proposed rulemaking, prompted by a High Court decision that the ban on using corporate or union funds for so-called electioneering TV and radio ads in the run-up to primaries and federal elections was being misapplied.

The Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the American Advertising Federation told the commission they are particularly concerned that the FEC read the court's decision as extending to commercial and business ads, as well as ones with advocacy or grassroots lobbying.

Campaign-finance law had been interpreted by the FEC to ban unions’ and corporations’ funds for any ads that mentioned a candidate, but the Supreme Court said that was too tight a rein on political speech to square with the First Amendment and that ads that mentioned candidates in the 30 days before a general election or 60 days before a primary could get those funds if they were "susceptible to a reasonable interpretation" that they were other than express advocacy for or against a candidate.

The rules apply to TV and radio ads, not print.

Before the ban becomes an issue in December (the first primary is in January 2008), the FEC wants to clarify things for candidates and the media.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.