The FCC has clarified two aspects of its October 2019 order regarding information that broadcast stations must include in their political files. In that order, which we wrote about here, the FCC said that when stations air advertisements that communicate a message relating to a political matter of national importance, they must upload documentation to their political files that lists all issues, candidates and races referenced in the ads. Several broadcasters and the NAB asked the FCC to reconsider certain aspects of that broad-reaching decision. They emphasized that because of the frenetic pace of ad sales during the height of political campaign seasons, stations should be able to use their reasonable good faith discretion to identify the elections, races, and issues that political ads reference.
In response, the FCC clarified that these record-keeping requirements apply only to ads purchased by third party issue advertisers, and not to ads purchased by candidates. This means that stations are only required to include documentation in their political files that identifies the candidates, races and issues referenced in issue ads that communicate a message relating to any political matter of national importance. NAB’s recently revised PB-19 Form for issue advertisements includes a section for this information. Stations do not have to include this information for ads purchased by candidates themselves.
The FCC also clarified that it will defer to broadcasters’ reasonable, good faith determinations in deciding whether a specific issue ad triggers the requirement to disclose candidates, races, and issues of national political importance, and in determining which issues to identify. In addition, the FCC said that broadcasters can use acronyms or abbreviations in the required documentation as long as they reasonably determine that the general public will understand the meaning of the abbreviation or acronym — such as “AARP.”
Finally, the FCC stated that other issues broadcasters and the NAB raised in their petitions for reconsideration remain pending.
If you have any questions about political file record-keeping requirements, please contact any attorney in our office.