Political Sponsorship Identification


A failure to include the correct sponsorship identification announcement can result in the station liability.  It is the one area where a broadcaster can edit a political advertisement.

The Communications Act and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission require that any sponsored message identify who paid for it.  The Federal Election Campaign Act goes further to require a statement as to whether a political message was authorized by any candidate.  The 2002 Campaign Reform Act assigns personal responsibility to the candidate or other sponsor.  These requirements apply to all political messages and are not limited to “uses”.

These requirements are:

If a program or spot is both paid for and authorized by a candidate or his campaign committee, the announcement must identify the candidate and state that it is paid for or sponsored by (the name of the candidate or the legal name of the candidate’s campaign committee).

Federal candidates must read the required statement and must state that the candidate has approved the broadcast.  Radio ads must name the office sought.  The last four seconds of a television spot must consist either of an unobscured view of the candidate making the required statement or the candidate’s voice accompanied by a clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate, together with a clearly readable printed text of the statement.  The image must be at least 80% of screen height and the text must be in letters at least 4% of screen height and must reasonably contrast with the background.

In addition to the foregoing, a further requirement applies to spots qualifying for the lowest unit rate that contain a direct reference to another federal candidate for the same office.  Radio spots must identify the office sought.  TV spots must state that the candidate’s authorized committee paid for the broadcast.  In addition, in order to qualify for lowest unit rates, a Federal candidate must certify to a station that he or she will comply with all of these notice requirements.

If a third party pays for the program, and it is authorized by the candidate or his committee, then the sponsorship portion of the announcement must read: “Paid for (or sponsored) by (name of third party) and authorized by (name of candidate or his committee).”

If the program is paid for by a third party and not authorized by any candidate, then the announcement must identify the sponsor (by name, address and phone number or website) and state that the broadcast is not authorized by any candidate.  In addition, any such broadcast concerning a federal candidate or soliciting contributions to influence federal elections must state: “___________ is responsible for the content of this advertising;” with the blank to be filled in with the names of the payor and any connected organizations.  A television spot must accompany the audio statement with the printed text of the statement for a period of at least four seconds using well-contrasted letters at least 4% of screen height.

Note that in all of the above announcements, the words “paid for by” or “sponsored by” are mandatory.  Substitutions such as “brought to you by” or “made possible by” are not acceptable.  Importantly, while broadcasters may not censor or modify a political advertisement that constitutes a “use” by a legally qualified candidate, if the sponsorship ID is improper, the broadcaster may superimpose the correct sponsorship over the candidate’s ad, so that it is made in the purchased time.

One further point: if a station donates time to a candidate, such time either can be identified as “provided by Station XXXX as a public service” or mention of sponsorship can be omitted.  (The authorization portion of the tag would still be required, though.) Note that donations of time will trigger free equal opportunities upon request by opponents.  If an opposing candidate claims equal opportunities, then the only announcement required would be that the material is authorized by the candidate or his or her committee.  Similar considerations apply if a candidate agrees to accept spots or program time in lieu of equal opportunities against a station employee who is a candidate.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Gregg Skall is a Washington DC based attorney specializing in all things media and FCC. If you have a comment, suggestion, or want more information, you can reach him at (202) 857-4441 or [email protected].