Presidential Precedent In Debate-Sponsor Flap

The Federal Election Commission’s Republican majority, which back in May voted against finding that Fox News Channel’s sponsorship of its first Republican presidential debate was a contribution to the 17 candidates involved — the Democrats on the commission and the FEC Office of General Counsel apparently voted to sanction Fox News — noted after that vote was publicized that there was scant precedent for such an action.

But that precedent was a famous one.

Back in 1980, the commission told the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph that its plans to host a debate would amount to a corporate contribution, and that the general counsel was empowered to stop the debate.

As a result, one of the candidates’ campaign committees stepped in to sponsor the debate.

The candidate: Ronald Reagan. That FEC-prompted move set the stage for an iconic campaign moment.

When the moderator tried to cut Reagan off during the debate, the former actor said dramatically and accurately: “I am paying for this microphone.”

The FCC has since concluded that hosting debates is a form of news coverage, the Republican commissioners said in expressing their “astonishment” at the Democrats’ vote.

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.