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house Bill H.R. 896

Should TV, Cable, and Radio Stations Have to Give Political Candidates Free Airtime?

Argument in favor

The high cost of buying advertisements for their campaigns makes candidates for public office beholden to special interests’ financial support, perverting American democracy. Giving political campaigns free air time would remove this pressure on political candidates, and give campaigns with less money a better chance.

Tom's Opinion
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03/17/2019
Give each candidate 2 hours, and limit their air time to that. Everyone gets the same amount of time, and we don’t get inundated.
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Javier's Opinion
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03/17/2019
this disempowers the rich who can pay for exposure. this evens the playing field.
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Leslie's Opinion
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03/17/2019
Yes, equal time to all parties. Tie this in with a large limitation on campaigns donations, and an increase number of scheduled proper debates (no mud slinging allowed) could be a great start to actual campaign reform
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Argument opposed

It’d be unconstitutional to require broadcasters to give free air time to political campaigns, as it’d violate either — or both — the First and Fifth Amendments. Additionally, given the range of mediums for campaigns to get their messages to voters, it’s no longer crucial to have TV advertising, so this bill’s impact would be less than advocates suggest.

J's Opinion
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03/17/2019
If equal airtime is to be given for free, then it should be given for free to any and all candidates, regardless. There should be NO stipulation. Period. But I think the better approach to fair campaign law would be that ALL candidates must be limited to a certain amount of allowable campaign costs uniformly, and it must be a reasonable, limited amount that any and all candidates can reasonably attain.
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I.Got.an.Idea...'s Opinion
···
03/17/2019
Eliminate all airtime and most campaigning. Limit to 3 weeks only and no negative political adds. No 501C-3’s or other non-profit PAC’s. Lower total allowable campaign expenditures to total annual salary of the position they are candidate for.
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Craig's Opinion
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03/18/2019
NOBODY should EVER be FORCED to give ANYONE ANY SERVICE for free.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Energy and Commerce
    IntroducedJanuary 30th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 896?

This bill — the Fairness in Political Advertising Act of 2019 — would require television broadcasting stations and cable operators to make free broadcast time available for political advertising. For political candidates in statewide or national elections whose parties received more than two percent of total votes in the most recent election, the bill would require an equal amount of free broadcast time to each candidate in each even-numbered year. Each candidate would receive a minimum of two hours of free broadcast time.

This bill also sets standards for allotting free broadcast time from 7-10pm during specific periods before an election, at comparable times of day and days of the week, to candidates for the same office. For TV stations, at least half of the allotted time per candidate would be during the 7-10pm primetime window.

If a station doesn’t comply with the requirements set forth in this bill, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could deny its license renewal.

Nothing in this bill, and no use of allotted free broadcast time, would restrict a candidate’s right to purchase other broadcast time.

Impact

TV stations; cable operators; radio stations; political campaigns; candidates for political office; campaign finance; and the FCC.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 896

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to level the playing field for viable candidates to compete against campaigns bankrolled by special interests. In floor remarks when reintroducing this bill in the 115th Congress, Rep. Kaptur said:

“It's time to level the playing field for viable candidates to compete against campaigns bankrolled by special interests. My bill would provide this access. It would require television stations to make available 2 hours of free advertising broadcast time during each even-numbered year, to each qualified political candidate in a statewide or national election. The direction we are headed, only millionaires or corporate interests will have a seat at the representative table. This is unacceptable in our democracy. Of the money raised in political campaigns, the largest expense for campaigns is advertising. Even today in this internet world, most dollars are still spent on television ads. In the 2014 midterms, $2.8 billion was spent on political television ads. In 2018, Cook Political Report estimates $2.4 billion will be spent on local broadcast and another $850 million for local cable. The math is clear: to be a viable candidate in America today, you need an incredible amount of capital. Our Fathers would be ashamed of this truth.”

Save Our Elections notes that candidates “spend most of their funds on radio/TV airtime[,] which makes them beholden to big donors,” and adds:

“A majority of the money spent in political campaigns is spent on advertising. The candidates with the most money have the loudest voices, drowning out ordinary people running for office. The bad taste from negative ads tends to turn people off. Consequently they lose the motivation to vote. Most other countries don't allow negative ads. Some countries, such as Brazil, have dedicated equal TV time for each politician to speak. This way voters can learn about each candidate and what they really stand for on a level playing field.”

In comments at an issue forum sponsored by the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center and the Los Angeles League of Women Voters in 2002, Walter Cronkite argued that it was time to require broadcasters to give free air time to political campaigns:

“[I]t's time to pass a bill that would require broadcasters to provide free air time during political campaigns as is done in virtually all of the world's other democracies. We'd like to see a bill that has two parts. One would require all television and radio stations to devote at least two hours a week to candidate issue discussion in the period just before an election. They could choose how to do that by airing debates, interviews, mini-debates or town hall meetings. Whatever. The second part would create a voucher system that would give a candidate the flexibility to place his free commercials on the television or radio station most advantageous to him. The vouchers would be financed by a small tax on the broadcast industry.”

In the same issue forum, Matt Klink, then-vice president of Cerrell & Associates, argued against free air time for political campaigns, pointing out that “Congress already has a pretty sweet deal when they buy ads. They get ads at the lowest unit rate available. And now to even suggest that they get free air time is really a joke.” Instead, Klink argued that politics simply didn’t matter enough to most people’s lives to justify free air time for political campaigns:

“[T]he idea that ideas, not money, should determine who gets elected—it would be really great if we could have every single candidate do Lincoln-Douglas type debates. After about the third one, you'd have about ten people in the room and half of them would be paid people by each campaign. People just don't care. Politics does not make that much of a difference in everybody's lives. I hate to admit it to you. You all are in the minority of the American populace. They are concerned about elections maybe on Election Day. And that's why political campaigns have to go to such great lengths buying TV advertising time to play the same message over and over and over again to cut through the clutter of everything that's out there.”

In 2003, Laurence H. Winer, a then-visiting professor at the Brooklyn Law School and professor of law and faculty fellow at the Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology at Arizona State University College of Law, argued that free air time for political campaigns would be unconstitutional:

“The legal justifications offered for free airtime should not be accepted. Scarcity no longer marks broadcasting in the United States. Free airtime is not a price paid for use of the spectrum. The government does not own the spectrum. It does not regulate the content of newspapers because they use sidewalks to deliver their product. The broadcasters have created almost all the value of the licenses since 1927. Free airtime is less a payback for using the spectrum than an open-ended effort by Congress to extract favors from the broadcasting industry. Free airtime also places an unconstitutional condition on receiving a broadcasting license. The proposal transfers the burden of funding campaigns from supporters of candidates to commercial broadcasters, an unconstitutional transfer of wealth under the Fifth Amendment.”

This bill’s opponents argue that it’d be a violation of networks’ First Amendment free speech rights to make programming decisions.

This bill has two cosponsors, both of whom are Democrats. Last Congress, this bill had two cosponsors, both of whom were Democrats. Rep. Kaptur introduced previous versions of this bill in 2011 and 2013, neither of which had any cosponsors or received a committee vote.


Of NoteThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has an “Equal Time Rule” that requires broadcast networks to give equal amounts of time to “legally qualified” political candidates for office, but there are at least four very broad exemptions that cover most — if not all — types of programming, including debates, newcasts, interviews, breaking news, and documentaries. This bill wouldn’t include any such exemptions, and would create a minimum amount of air time. “Qualified” candidates are those who belong to political parties that won more than two percent of the vote in the most recent statewide or national election.

Currently, broadcasters are required to sell ad slots to federal candidates at the lowest unit rate during election season.

According to a 2001 study, free media for politicians is “the most widely used campaign financial regulation in the world,” with only seven of 60 countries surveyed failing to provide any free air time to their candidates. The study found that many European countries had not only developed a system of free air time, but also limited purchased advertising.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / bee32)

AKA

Fairness in Political Advertising Act of 2019

Official Title

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require radio and television broadcasters to provide free broadcasting time for political advertising, and for other purposes.

    Give each candidate 2 hours, and limit their air time to that. Everyone gets the same amount of time, and we don’t get inundated.
    Like (131)
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    Share
    If equal airtime is to be given for free, then it should be given for free to any and all candidates, regardless. There should be NO stipulation. Period. But I think the better approach to fair campaign law would be that ALL candidates must be limited to a certain amount of allowable campaign costs uniformly, and it must be a reasonable, limited amount that any and all candidates can reasonably attain.
    Like (116)
    Follow
    Share
    this disempowers the rich who can pay for exposure. this evens the playing field.
    Like (66)
    Follow
    Share
    Eliminate all airtime and most campaigning. Limit to 3 weeks only and no negative political adds. No 501C-3’s or other non-profit PAC’s. Lower total allowable campaign expenditures to total annual salary of the position they are candidate for.
    Like (58)
    Follow
    Share
    Yes, equal time to all parties. Tie this in with a large limitation on campaigns donations, and an increase number of scheduled proper debates (no mud slinging allowed) could be a great start to actual campaign reform
    Like (52)
    Follow
    Share
    NOBODY should EVER be FORCED to give ANYONE ANY SERVICE for free.
    Like (38)
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    Share
    Appears to provide a greater opportunity for those who aren’t backed by the huge sources of big money by some
    Like (33)
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    No, no, no. Why should political ads get special treatment? Nobody else does. Why should the political mudslinging be free? Honestly, I would rather listen to ads for Burger King than the political ads which are only half truths.
    Like (22)
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    NOT “NOOOOOO” BUT HELL “NO000000!!!!” We see far too much bias by the MSM towards the Liberal Left, can one imagine if they’d have to give free political service? Katie -Bar The -Door. It’d be unconstitutional to require broadcasters to give free air time to political campaigns, as it’d violate either — or both — the First and Fifth Amendments. Additionally, given the range of mediums for campaigns to get their messages to voters, it’s no longer crucial to have TV advertising, so this bill’s impact would be less than advocates suggest. SneakyPete..... 👎🏻👎🏻👎🏻👎🏻. 3*17*19.....
    Like (21)
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    Should we force private companies to give their products to the government for free? No. Campaign finance reform is what’s needed. Not a excuse for more dark money under the guise of “fairness”. This is BS.
    Like (15)
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    Yes, yes, yes. A set and equal amount of time — and no more. No paid advertising. Restore democracy by negating the tools used to subvert it.
    Like (11)
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    One of the biggest issues in our political system is name recognition. There could be plenty of candidates out there with great ideas, but are unable to get their name out there because they don’t have enough money for advertisements. Giving equal and free airtime to all candidates will help equal the playing field.
    Like (9)
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    Politicians have an uncanny way of getting rich with elections. Let them pay for their ads like anyone else.
    Like (8)
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    With the millions and millions those candidates raise. NO!! What an asinine proposal.
    Like (7)
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    Yes it would lower influence of big money
    Like (6)
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    Political opposing comments used to get free airtime. Reagan got rid of that. I think people running for office should get a certain amount of free air time and also opposing comments! The president gets free air time all the time! He suck the oxygen out of the room and says nothing!
    Like (6)
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    It’s the right thing to do for a fair election!
    Like (6)
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    Good idea, Jim. Just the candidates... I like it!
    Like (6)
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    All equl time no one gets extra. All political ads must be approved by campaign they represent. No extra bought for ads especially since lately there have been so many misleading political ads during critical times. More debates better moderated, live fact checking.
    Like (6)
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    Free and equal time. There shouldn’t be anyone being disadvantaged by it. For example Fox News coverage of trump is at 100% with advocating him. Fox must be forced to give equal time to others to express their philosophy and ideas.
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