Some of the action is part of the ongoing intramural warfare still raging within the Democratic party, but other are already aimed at November.
Two groups are attacking Barack Obama (D-IL), Freedom’s Watch on behalf of at least one Republican congressional candidate, and American Leadership Project on behalf of Hillary Clinton (D-NY). FW is citing the Supreme Court’s recent Wisconsin Right to Life decision, arguing that it may run soft-money ads as long as they are focused on issues and do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. ALP is fending off charges of collusion with the Clinton campaign, which is taboo under the regulations. DNC, which recently went after John McCain (R-AZ) is itself fending off similar charges from its counterpart RNC.
According to the Associated Press, numerous other surrogate advertisers both local and national are dipping into their cash reserves.
RBR/TVBR observation: Watch for organizations to play fast and loose with the rules this year, thanks to a defanged and declawed FEC. The law may catch up to some of them later, but the good news is broadcasters will likely be quite safe if that happens. Stations are within their rights to refuse advertising that they believe to be false or which fails to comport with content policies. But, while we’ve seen numerous fines and consent decrees involving advertisers, we’ve never yet seen one involving a broadcaster. That’s good news – the FEC does not require the advertising venues to police their own airwaves.
However, you can go astray if you get into the habit of behaving preferentially to one side or the other, and this is especially true when it comes to granting of free or cut-rate air time, which is usually seen as a like-kind contribution and subject to political donation rules. If you grant time to one, make sure the opponent gets the exact same opportunity.
We also believe the safest policy when a proposed ad is in your station’s gray area is to err on the side of running it. That will minimize charges of preferential treatment, with the added benefit of a check in the bank.