The Doug Collins campaign for CD9 has written to Cox Media Group, owner of Bulldog 103.7 FM, requesting equal time under §315 of the Communications Act of 1934. Martha Zoller, a talk radio host on Bulldog 103.7 has announced her candidacy for the same seat.
In its letter to Cox Media Group, owner of the radio station, the Collins campaign takes the position that by having filed a campaign committee with the Federal Elections Commission, Zoller is an “official candidate” for Congress. Collins alleges that Zoller has discussed her campaign on the air, and requests equal time.
Speaking to the Gainesville Times, Zoller’s campaign made clear their position that Zoller’s candidacy will not trigger the equal time provision until she qualifies with the state in the spring.
Zoller does not plan to leave the show until qualifying for the election in the spring.
Mahoney said Zoller is “super careful” that she does not bring her candidacy into the conversation of her daily talk show, even warning callers that the campaign cannot be a topic of discussion.
“Martha has done her best to keep (the conversation) to the topic of the day,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said Collins is welcome on the show at any time.
Rules for the Federal Communications Commission only deal with legally qualified candidates.
Legally, Zoller can stay on the air until she qualifies for the race with the Secretary of State’s office in the spring.
That last part is a legal conclusion either made by the Gainesville Times or by Zoller’s campaign, not a statement of fact. But it appears that it is a correct statement of the law and that Collins’s request for equal time may be denied.
Subject to four exceptions, §315 requires an FCC-licensed broadcaster to “afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station”.
The so-called “equal time provision” is triggered when a radio or television licensee gives time to a “legally-qualified candidate,” so the disposition of Collins’s request depends on whether Zoller has reached the status of a legally qualified candidate, and whether her broadcast falls under one of the exceptions.
Martha Zoller is not a “Legally Qualified Candidate” under the Communications Act, so there is no Equal Time requirement
Whether a person is a legally qualified candidate is determined by reference to 47 CFR §73.1940, the FCC-promulgated rules adopted to flesh out the Communications Act. Section 73.1940 states:
(a) A legally qualified candidate for public office is any person who:
(1) Has publicly announced his or her intention to run for nomination or office;
(2) Is qualified under the applicable local, State or Federal law to hold the office for which he or she is a candidate; and
(3) Has met the qualifications set forth in either paragraph (b), (c), (d), or (e) of this section.
(b) A person seeking election to any public office including that of President or Vice President of the United States, or nomination for any public office except that of President or Vice President, by means of a primary, general or special election, shall be considered a legally qualified candidate if, in addition to meeting the criteria set forth in paragraph (a) of this section, that person:
(1) Has qualified for a place on the ballot; or
(2) Has publicly committed himself or herself to seeking election by the write-in method and is eligible under applicable law to be voted for by sticker, by writing in his or her name on the ballot or by other method, and makes a substantial showing that he or she is a bona fide candidate for nomination or office.
…. [paragraphs c, d, and e apply only to candidates for President or Vice President]….
So in order to meet the criteria for legally qualified candidate, you have to meet the requirements of all three parts of sub-section(a) and at least one part of (b).
A legally qualified candidate is one who has fulfilled all of the requirements to run for a particular office. That usually means filing certain papers with state or local election boards, and may, in some cases, require the gathering of signatures on a petition or the payment of a filing fee. Once a potential candidate has done the things necessary to qualify for a place on the ballot, he or she is considered a “legally qualified candidate.”
Here Martha Zoller will not meet the criteria in §73.1940(a)(2) and §73.1940(b) and become a legally-qualified candidate until she becomes qualified under state law, meaning when she qualifies for the ballot, which will happen in late May. Because Martha is not a legally qualified candidate, the equal time provision is not triggered.