GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Another election season is upon us, and that means candidates for public office will be hitting the television airwaves with campaign advertisements in an effort to win over voters at the polls.
Occasionally, the content of those campaign ads can be controversial, or might contain questionable or even untrue statements. However, federal law states that television stations “shall have no power of censorship over the material.”
“The rationale behind it is the idea that candidates get to say what they want, and the voters get to sort through the marketplace of ideas and decide what's true, what's false,” Hamline University Political Science Professor David Schultz told VERIFY.
Political ads are considered to be political speech, which is protected under the First Amendment. TV station news departments are able to report on the accuracy of political advertisements shown on the same station, but cannot restrict the ad itself.
Broadcast television stations like KARE 11 utilize the public airwaves, and are licensed and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has clear rules about candidate advertising. The FCC requires that stations accept ads from any "legally qualified candidate” with the commercial time sold at the lowest rate that the “station charges its most favored commercial advertisers for the same classes and amounts of time for the same periods.”
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) also requires candidates for federal offices to follow certain rules in their advertising, including “I approve this message” statements by the candidate.
Television stations have more control over ads paid for by third-party groups, and can charge higher advertising rates for those commercials.
"If the ad comes from an outside group, like a political party or an interest group of a Super PAC, then the stations can make editorial decisions about whether or not to run the ads,” Christopher Terry, a University of Minnesota expert on campaign advertising law, told KARE 11 in 2020.
The FEC requires that advertisements by political action committees or other third-party groups must clearly identify the organization responsible for the ad, and state that the message is not affiliated with any candidate.
Cable networks and digital platforms do not have to follow the same rules as broadcast stations and can choose whether to accept political advertising and whether to restrict the content of those ads.
Read more about the FCC’s rules for political candidate advertising here.
Watch KARE 11's report on campaign advertising from 2020: