Campaign Legal Center Wants FCC To Insure Candidates Get Access To Airwaves

In advance of Tuesday's hearing on the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the Campaign Legal center has recommended some legislative responses, including getting the Federal Communications Commission to insure access to airwaves by candidates as part of the public-interest obligations of the digital age.

The 10 a.m. hearing is in the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was fiercely critical of the decision two weeks ago in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions can use direct treasury funds to pay for campaign ads on cable, broadcast or satelite.

In a letter to Schumer, the group, which supported the FEC with two amicus briefs, said it was critical that Congress move swiftly to "mitigate the damage."

Among its suggestions are to strengthen the definition of coordinated vs. independent expenditures and give candidates more access to the "publicly owned airwaves" by making the lowest unit rate provision "meaningful."

While it did not come right out and say the government should require broadcasters to sell nonpreemptible spots at the preemptible lowest unit rate at which it must now sell campaign spot time to candidates, or that the government should make broadcasters provide free airtime, it raised both those issues.

"Over time, the statute that requires broadcasters to provide candidates the opportunity to purchase time at the lowest unit rate (also called lowest unit charge) has become severely weakened," the group wrote. "Air time sold at the lowest unit rate is generally pre-emptible, thus forcing candidates to buy the more expensive, non-pre-emptible time to ensure they reach the targeted demographic. A new statute should ensure that once again the lowest unit rates for candidates are meaningful."

And while not mentioning free time, the group said that "the Federal Communications Commission should, as part of their ongoing proceedings on public interest obligations of digital broadcasters, also look at ways to ensure that candidates have access to the publicly-owned airwaves so their messages are not drowned out by a political cacophony among many special interest players."

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.