Accountable America, a political watchdog founded by Tom Matzzie, is questioning a meeting being held between John McCain (R-AZ) and some of his donors. According to reports, Sheldon Adelson is expected to be in attendance. The concern is that Adelson is a big financial backer of political interest group Freedom’s Watch and is said to back other 527 organizations. One concern is the apparent lack of consistency on McCain’s part, who has railed against 527s for years as part of his push for his signature Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The other is a technical matter – such organizations are barred from coordinating their advertising with that of a political campaign. “Will Mr. Adelson use information provided to him by the McCain campaign in private strategy meetings to influence how Freedom’s Watch and other groups he finances promote McCain and attack Obama and other Democrats?” asks Accountable America.
RBR/TVBR observation: 527 groups went nuts in 2004, when the FEC declined to issue a definitive ruling on them until after the election for a number of reasons. After the fact, many of them, including entities on both sides of the ideological spectrum, were fined hefty amounts for behaving more like political action groups, which are subject to much more stringent financing guidelines. We wonder if we’re going to see the same thing again this cycle – groups that decide a potential FEC fine down the road is a potential cost of doing business, and will go up to and beyond the line in funding and buying advertising.
Election speech, like other forms of speech, is going to present massive amounts of gray area for those who would attempt to regulate it, and the Supreme Court didn’t do much to help the situation with its earlier Wisconsin Right to Life decision. We just saw an ad the other day that produced a laundry list of legislative sins committed by a certain federal officeholder, and suggested we call or write to him about them. It didn’t advocate for his election or defeat (right), so if we understand WRtL correctly, it wouldn’t count as prohibited electioneering communication during those periods when such paid-for speech is banned.
Luckily for broadcasters, nobody expects station licensees to be traffic cops when it comes to the content of political speech. But a station could get in trouble for allowing one candidate or political persuasion access to the airwaves while withholding equal access to the other side. So our advice is to accept everybody’s money and let the FEC sort it all out. Unless an ad is patently indecent, that is.