Political Broadcasting by Independent Committees

64 Boston University Law Review 625 (1984)


* The PACcess Doctrine is not an actual doctrine of law. It is the result of a series of recent FCC rulings enhancing substantially the broadcast position of political action committees (PACs), see infra note 5, and other independent political committees (IPCs), see infra note 1, in contravention of existing law and policy. These rulings are discussed in Part III infra and are herein collectively referred to as the PACcess Doctrine.

NAME: Kenneth M. Kwartler

[*625] Independent political committees (IPCs) 1 are rapidly becoming the dominant political entities of the 1980s. IPCs were rejuvenated by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), 2 which curtailed sharply the campaign finance abilities of individuals while placing comparatively fewer restrictions on IPCs’ abilities to raise, contribute, and spend money during federal campaigns. 3 IPCs have become reservoirs of political funds no longer [*626] directly contributable to candidates; they channel these funds to activities intended to advance a particular candidate or political view. 4 IPCs, especially political action committees (PACs), 5 have grown markedly in both [*627] numbers and influence. 6

There is a growing concern that the financial clout of IPCs may have an inordinate effect upon the governmental behavior of elected officials. 7 Recognizing the importance of IPC support, legislators may be motivated to adjust their voting either to attract IPC funds for themselves, or at least to minimize those likely to reach an opponent. 8 As a result, IPCs have become [*628] a substantial force in both elections and congressional behavior in a remarkably short time.

A large share of IPC expenditures has gone toward political broadcasting. 9 However, the emergence of IPCs as significant political broadcast entities was largely unanticipated by federal communications policy. In addition, it has come at a time when both the broadcast industry and government officials seek to remove the existing balance provisions that govern campaign broadcasting. 10 Consequently, IPCs have been left largely untouched by the current political broadcasting regulatory scheme, and recent rulings by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have only increased their power by granting them a more favorable position than that accorded to even the candidates themselves.11

[*629] This Note examines the FCC’s unwarranted leniency toward IPCs and the resulting inadequacy of the existing political broadcast regulatory scheme. Part I explains the current regulatory scheme’s restrictions on political entities’ freedom to broadcast. Part II illuminates the policy goals of political broadcast law as articulated by Congress, the courts, and the FCC during the past fifty-seven years. Part III examines a number of recent FCC rulings that appear to have excised IPCs from the existing regulatory scheme. Part IV suggests regulatory modifications that would include IPCs within the existing scheme and hence ensure the continued viability of longstanding communications policy.

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