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Pai: Time To Let Noncoms Raise Funds For Third Party Charities

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says it is time for the FCC to give noncommercial stations the ability to use some of their airtime to raise money for third parties.

Currently, noncoms can raise funds for themselves, but not others, though the commission under former chairman Julius Genachowski last year that proposed loosening those restrictions by allowing stations to use up to one percent of their airtime for third-party nonprofit fund-raising.

The FCC has issued a number of waivers of the limitation for disaster relief efforts.

In a speech to a National Religious Broadcasters board of directors meeting Tuesday, Pai said the FCC should approve the proposal. The commission voted unanimously to make the change in an April 2012 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking but has yet to vote out an order. No one was available at the shuttered FCC to comment on that delay.

He was definitely preaching to the choir since NRB has long pushed for a rule change so its stations could support outside ministries.

"Allowing noncommercial stations to fundraise for third-party charities is the right thing to do," he said according to a copy of his prepared testimony. "For religious broadcasters, this is especially important," he said, waxing scriptural. "Instead of living by this rule, you would be able to live by your faith. In Deuteronomy 15:11, God commands us 'to be openhanded toward your fellow [countrymen] who are poor and needy in your land.'  I know that religious broadcasters take this mandate seriously, and it's time for the FCC to stop standing in the way of those who wish to follow it."

He said the "up to 1 percent" would only amount to about 15 minutes per day and would allow them to fulfill humanitarian needs without undermining their noncommercial stature. "Indeed, the success of disaster-relief fundraisers that have been held following FCC waivers proves that stations can help people in need without compromising their noncommercial character," he said.

He said to keep the FCC out of the business of determining who qualifies as a charity, it should make the definition 501(c)(3) organizations.

Some noncoms aren't looking for the change. National Public Radio, for example, met with FCC staffers in August to say they thought the waiver process was sufficient and expressing their concerns with a rule change, which included stations being inundated with requests, facing "pressure" to fundraise for affiliated parties, and how it would impact fundraising from listeners.

Pai said he recognized some noncoms were not on board but was not persuaded by their arguments. "It's certainly possible, I suppose, that making choices like this [among requests from third parties for fundraising] could cause stations some heartburn. But broadcasters make plenty of decisions each and every day, and I'm sure they can handle this one without antacid. I also don't accept the underlying premise that people should be given less freedom because making decisions sometimes can be hard. In this area, as in so many others, the government shouldn't make choices for us in order to spare us the stress of choosing. If stations don't want to engage in third-party fundraising, then I would remind them of three words popularized by former First Lady Nancy Reagan:  Just say no."