2024 Nuts and Bolts of Political Broadcasting Introduction

Despite the fact that, as of the date of this guide, the 2024 presidential election is still more than a year away, political advertising activity is already well underway.  Important Ohio state and local political issues have engendered meaningful political activity as well, all of which are sure to continue to increase as we draw closer and closer to the November 5, 2024, election date.

This election cycle comes at a time when the FCC has recently taken significant and far-reaching enforcement actions targeting political broadcasting compliance issues.  Most notably, in the last license renewal cycle the Commission issued numerous consent decrees to broadcasters addressing various political file recordkeeping violations committed during the broadcasters’ respective prior license terms.  Stations large and small have been affected, with many incurring considerable extra compliance responsibilities and reporting obligations as a result of the consent decrees.

These circumstances highlight an important juxtaposition: the opportunity for stations to bring in substantial ad revenue during the upcoming political season may be great, but making the sales required to realize that revenue while complying with the complex laws and regulations that apply to political and issue-oriented advertising is no easy task.  Additionally, political advertisers are continually evolving their buying strategies, and broadcasters’ sales tactics are constantly changing as the various platforms and types of spots stations are able to offer expand to accommodate the needs of candidates and third-party issue advertisers.  And, in this era of the FCC’s online public inspection file, there is ever more scrutiny on broadcasters’ political broadcasting practices.

This guide, we hope, will make understanding and following the “rules of the road” that govern broadcasters’ candidate and issue advertising sales a bit less arduous.  No, this guide does not contain all of the answers, and it is not a substitute for legal counsel when it comes to addressing particular, fact-specific questions regarding candidate and issue advertising.  However, this guide does provide the basic rules—the “nuts and bolts”—of political broadcasting.  We hope you find it a useful resource to which OAB members can frequently turn as we enter the 2024 election cycle.

Additionally, we encourage you to reach out to Association counsel, or to your legal counsel, when questions arise about a particular inquiry or proposed buy; please note, however, that Association counsel cannot give legal advice about particular facts and circumstances.