During the last election cycle a handful of broadcasting companies got into a little hot water by providing free air time to candidates without assuring that all involved parties received equal treatment. If there are a Republican, and Democrat and an Independent running for Congress in your market, it’s fine to give each of them 15 minutes. But you can’t give one 15, another 10 and the other five minutes and expect the FEC’s eyebrows to remain in their un-raised position. Any variation and you’ve made a campaign contribution subject to all applicable election rules and regs. RBR notes that airlines, like broadcasters, are overseen by the federal government and as such, prefer amiable relationships with legislators whenever possible. Senators eager to get out of town but not sure when they’ll be unchained from a floor vote often book multiple flights, paying only for the one they ultimately use. However, if an average citizen attempted to do that, they’d pay for each flight booked whether they take it or not. Although this privilege is said to be granted to certain frequent flyers, according to the Washington Post, it’s been determined that making this exception for senators constitutes a gift, and the legal beagles have advised their airline clients to discontinue the practice.
RBR & TVBR mention this only to highlight the fact giving gifts to politicians is still under heavy scrutiny. It will likely be even heavier when it comes to air time. So if you’re going to give away time, do it – it looks great in your public file and the NAB will be happy to trumpet your generosity – just make sure you do it equally.
RBR/TVBR observation: The Do and Don’ts of political advertising will be spelled out by RBR in coming issues and special reports. It will be a long political 2008 season. RBR will give you the facts to conduct business, so stay with us.