Political Broadcasting by Independent Committees


Over the past decade independent political committees have grown enormously in number, wealth, and influence. Through political broadcasting, they have had a profound effect on the nature and outcome of political elections, and hence on government operations. The magnitude of IPC political clout was largely unanticipated by political broadcast regulators. Consequently, although candidates and their supporters operate under a strict and clearly defined regulatory structure to ensure informational and editorial balance in the broadcast media, no similar provisions exist to govern the broadcasting activities of IPCs. Furthermore, recent FCC rulings regarding IPCs have, both through vagueness and deliberate action, excluded these committees from all traditional broadcast balance regulations. The likely result of these FCC rulings will be to grant IPCs a favored status among all political broadcast entities, thus opening loopholes that permit politically partial licensees to circumvent existing balance provisions.

This Note has suggested methods of regulating IPC broadcasting, drawn from existing FCC policies and regulations. The proposals made would bring IPCs under the existing scheme of political broadcast balance regulation and account for them as active, influential political entities in a manner consistent with congressional policy, Supreme Court rulings, and FCC doctrine. The proposals would eliminate the PACcess Doctrine’s financial and administrative incentives, removing IPCs as a tool for licensee partiality and circumvention of existing licensee restrictions. By providing response rights to opposing viewpoints, the suggested regulations would lessen the informational imbalance that results from IPC advertising. To the extent that IPC access is based primarily on wealth and results in editorial imbalances favoring the affluent, elimination of the Doctrine is consistent with the ends of CBS v. Democratic National Committee.335 Furthermore, the proposals would block IPC monopolization of the “free marketplace,” restoring the capacity for robust debate on electoral issues. By clarifying the presently vague licensee requirements regarding IPC broadcasting, the suggested methods could channel the emerging informational potential of IPCs into a means of simplifying licensee public interest obligations.

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