Broadcasters may not be thrilled with the requirement that federal candidates pay lowest unit rate during election season in spite of what the laws of supply and demand dictate. But it’s accepted as part of a stations’ public responsibility. But giving free airtime to federal candidates could be a tougher sell. For the moment it’s unlikely to happen during the 2018 campaign season. But if Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) gets her way, it’s something that radio and television stations would be required to do every two years.
Kaptur has introduced the Fairness in Political Advertising Act (H.R. 6248), which would mandate stations provide free broadcasting time for political advertising. The proposal is oddly vague about how radio stations would be required to comply with the proposed law, but it includes specific requirements on televisions stations and cable operators that could be a template. The bill would give bona fide candidates in statewide or national elections “at least two hours” of free broadcast time in even-numbered years. For TV stations, at least half of the allotted time would be during the 7-10pm primetime window. If a station doesn’t comply with the requirement, Kaptur proposes the Federal Communications Commission deny any attempt to renew its license.
Kaptur’s bill has so far picked up two cosponsors—Reps. Andre Carson (D-IN) and Eleanor Homes (D-DC)—and has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But if the past is any indication, the bill is unlikely to gain much traction. Kaptur first proposed free radio and TV airtime for candidates in 2011 and so far none of her bills have been acted on by the Republican-controlled Congress.
One new ripple this year, Kaptur also introduced a second bill that would prohibit election spending by foreign-influenced corporations—those whose foreign ownership hits 20% or more. It would also tighten the reporting requirements for disclosing an entity’s work with overseas governments. “Until we repeal Citizens United, which threw open the floodgates for billionaires and special interests to spend unlimited secret money on our elections, we need common sense legislation to ensure foreign interests do not influence American democracy from the shadows,” she said in a brief speech on the House floor. That bill, which has been titled the Repelling Encroachment by Foreigners into U.S. Elections (REFUSE) Act, has secured a dozen cosponsors so far.