FEC Passes On Ad Exemption


The Federal Election Commission has tabled a proposal that could have put even more political dollars in broadcasters' pockets.

The Federal Election Commission Tuesday voted not to change the definition of  "electioneering communications" to permit a "grassroots lobbying" exemption that would allow unions and corporations to run TV and radio issue ads that mention incumbent legislators and air in the 60 days before an election without the reporting requirements and spending caps that currently apply.

An example under the exemption is a TV ad that says: "Contact Senator Smith and tell him to vote for the Baby Octopus Protection Fund," and airs within 60 days of an election, would not qualify as electioneering communications and not be subject to the spending caps and disclosure requirements.

Unions, led by the AFL-CIO had asked for the exemption, saying that the prohibition limited speech about issues at a crucial time--when those issues were before the legislature.

The exemption would have been limited to ads featuring incumbents who would be voting on those issues.

The FEC only received a handful of comments on the proposal, most supporting the exemption, arguing that the current electioneering communications rules limit ads that are not meant to back any candidate, but to support or kill legislation at the most critical time, i.e. when the legislation is before Congress, regardless of the election cycle.

The commission voted not to initiate a rulemaking citing "other administrative priorities" including two outstanding court challenges to its electioneering communications rules that could effect how it interprets them, but said it is not precluded from doing so in the future.

The vote was three to three with, somewhat ironically, Democrats voting against the union proposal and Republicans for it.