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Early Illinois Race Illustrates Broadcast Ad Rules

WASHINGTON: The ponies are out of the gate in Illinois, where the first major political election of 2010 occurs Feb. 2. It’s shaping up to be a mudsling with implications for broadcasters, according to David Oxenford of Davis Wright Tremaine. One Republican candidate in the race fore the Senate seat vacated by President Obama is running radio ads inferring that the front-runner is gay. Broadcasters in the state are concerned about airing the allegation. Oxenford said stations cannot censor campaign ads from a legally qualified candidate once the air time has been sold.

“If the attacking candidate is legally qualified for a place on the primary ballot, as news reports indicate that he is in the Illinois case, then stations cannot censor that ad--and have to run it with these attacks on the front-running candidate, even if the stations do not like the message,” Oxenford wrote in the law firm’s blog.

Only if an ad violates federal indecency law can it be censored, though stations also are not liable for the contents of a campaign ad from a legally qualified candidate. They also are allowed to run disclaimers, defining the spots as political ads that can’t be censored. Oxenford said stations need to make sure that political spots meet the FCC’s definition of a campaign ad, e.g., they contain the voice or image of the candidate, and have a sponsorship identification.

Oxenford provides more details on the rules for political advertising at the Davis Wright Tremaine Broadcast Law Blog.

(Image by Cheryl Lemanski