Collins requests equal air time from Cox Media Group

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).

David Oxenford is a lawyer practicing broadcasting law before the FCC and writes a blog about related legal issues. In his firm’s Political Broadcasting Guide, he states

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.

29 comments

  1. CobbGOPer says:

    So if I’m reading the law correctly, in essence she could talk about her campaign on the air all she wants to until she actually files her paperwork and turns over her check to qualify?

  2. Starker says:

    You are right CobbGOPer. It looks like she is getting by on a technicality. She filed with the FEC and in my opinion should do what all other radio hosts do, which is leave her show. Legal maybe but unethical to use it, YES.

      • Starker says:

        I think you are missing the point. I am not mad that Martha has a radio show, I actually enjoy her show. I am just upset that she is using it to campaign. I think she should have the right to be on the show until she “qualifies” (which is a fuzzy rule because she is already campaigning and fundraising). The letter was addressing her use of the show as a campaign tool not her actually being on the radio. Two different things. If she uses the show to campaign, which according to the letter she is then Doug should get the same time.

        • Word says:

          How is she using it to campaign? Is she talking about her campaign on the air? Hasn’t she ask Collins to come on her show anytime her wants and he isn’t taking her up on her offer?

          So to me he just seems petty.

          I have no problem with someone continuing to be on the air as long as they are doing their job and not campaigning. My guess is that if she was just campaigning cox media wouldn’t keep her on the air.

            • bowersville says:

              Until you get into the court of public opinion which apparently this move by the Collins folks was the intended venue. And then who knows what voter’s perceptions will be?

              What will be interesting is if Collins appears on the Zoller show. If he does he’ll be in full campaign mode and Zoller’s hands are tied because she can’t speak of her campaign. Or, will Zoller have the advantage by having control of the questions to Collins? Or, will the people that call in control the questions? Or will another person host the show that day? Or will Collins launch a direct dialogue to voters and ignore Zoller’s questions while appearing on the Zoller show? Ya’ll know how it goes, politicians have a tendency to answer questions they wished they had been asked.

              I’m looking forward to see how both sides play this out.

              • Todd Rehm says:

                What makes you think Martha’s hands would be tied? Until May I don’t see any restrictions on her political activities on-air? Except for the fact that broadcast execs tend to be pretty conservative when it affects licensing. But if they’re going to get stuff like this anyway, maybe they decide, “what the heck, let Martha say whatever she wants until qualifying.”

              • Joshua Morris says:

                If Collins were to accept her invitation to come on the show, there are many folks who could fill-in, if necessary, for a segment to interview him. Tim Bryant, the morning news guy, could do it, or one of many guest hosts who fill in for her on occasion could step in.

                • bowersville says:

                  I had rather see Bryant or one of the guest hosts MC. Zoller has been an excellent MC at some of the debates I’ve attended and I’ve heard her MC political debates on air. They were all informative. Especially with the call ins asking questions too. Another side of me would love to hear them both asking each other questions and both answering. In both formats , IMHO Todd, Zoller would need to mention her campaign. Why? If Collins brings up this issue directly, Zoller would need the freedom to counter with her response.

                  No one should read any bias into my responses. When at first seeing only news of two candidates from Hall announcing, I thought oh boy they’re both from Hall. Whoopee, big deal and I’ll wait and start paying attention come spring.

                  Now a skirmish….and there are two other candidates, a station manager and Cox Media yet to be heard from.

        • seekingtounderstand says:

          Collins has Republican Party insider club including the Governor Deal and Denise Deal support, why not complain about that?

  3. you says:

    Martha has not used her show to talk about her campaign. Why should she have to give up her job because she is running? When she first announced callers would congratulate her but she put a stop to that right away. (within a day)
    Doug Collins has not resigned from his postion. In fact, I have noticed he is attending more events and in the local paper on a regular base since he announced. So, is that using his postion to promote his campaign? Does that give him an advantage? Many would agrue yes; Incumbents and politicians use their current office to advance themself therefore some would argue he should resign too.
    Just my two cents.

    • Starker says:

      When I said fuzzy I do understand the law I was just saying I do not like it. If you file with the FEC and you are fundraising and you are holding campaigning events you are a candidate. I never said she couldn’t keep her job just that she should keep her campaign off the radio. Her hands are not tied because she would be allowed to talk about the campaign because Doug requested equal time. Them talking together would be equal time. Martha would clean him out one on one with her show, it would be interesting though to listen to it. I do not think Doug is on the floor at the Capitol using his position to campaign, or at least I do not think so :). Is he using his contacts to better his campaign, yes absolutely. Is Martha using her contacts, absolutely. Her actual show should not be used though, my only point.

  4. drjay says:

    i am actually surprised that the law uses qualifying as its guide for one becoming a candidate–i would have thought the fec filing would be the trigger, but if it’s not, then it’s not…now it’s just a matter of perception, which my guess is collins knows this and is hoping that bringing it up helps his campaign by making her cont’d radio presence seem “shady”…

    • Doug Deal says:

      I think the opposite in that it makes him look like he is whining. Screaming “that’s unfair” (expecially when the law is clearly written and does not back his assertion) is not really a conservative selling point.

    • Starker says:

      I agree, I’d hope his campaign could realize the difference between legal and not and is only using this to bring it to light to the public. Collins is probably hoping the public frowns and then she leaves early.

  5. CobbGOPer says:

    I think he should back off this demand as it just makes him look like a whiner. As well, why on Earth would he want to go on her show? That seems like an invitation to an ambush to me… She’s controlling the forum, as opposed to a more neutral mediator. That’s just asking to be ambushed.

  6. Starker says:

    Ok I went ahead a read the whole law and do believe she has qualified. According to the law it does not ask a federal campaign to qualify with the state. It clearly says OR when referring to state, local, or federal level. She has registered and filed with the FEC which makes her a candidate. The only other thing that could hold her back as a non-qualifier is if she is not a full fledged candidate which no one argues that she is. The ballot situation with the SOS of Georgia is never mentioned in the Act so with my understanding she can not use her show to campaign. Whether she actually is or not is beyond me. So Doug is either whining and lying about her using it to campaign or she is lying and using it to occasionally campaign. I agree with Calypso, as long as she doesn’t campaign I’m good with her on the air.

    • Calypso says:

      Starker, you said, “I agree with Calypso, as long as she doesn’t campaign I’m good with her on the air.”

      You have me mixed up with some other respondent. I never said or intimated such a thing. Until she qualifies, which she hasn’t, she can legally do whatever her employer allows her to, campaign-wise.

      • Starker says:

        I must have misread, I thought you had earlier said that if she is not campaigning you are ok with her on the radio. How has she not qualified? Reread the Act it clearly states that she must qualify on one level not federal and state. A shill? Lets hold a level of maturity during a discussion. I am not with the campaign if that is what you are implying but to each his own. It is 7 months until the election and I hold an open mind for my vote.

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