Al Franken, who’s trying to unseat the Minnesota Republican this fall, is claiming that a tiny error at the end of a 30-second Coleman commercial violates federal communications law – and Coleman has to forfeit the special, reduced ad rate given to political candidates.
Coleman recently produced an ad featuring former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Sandy Keith attacking Franken. To receive the “lowest unit charge” – which can sometimes be half of typical rates -- Coleman must include a disclaimer saying he approved the message. He also needs to broadcast his own likeness for a minimum of four seconds, according to the federal Communications Act of 1934.
He got the first part right -- and got the second part half-right.
“Though the written disclaimer does appear for four seconds, Coleman’s image only appears for the last two seconds of the advertisement,” wrote Franken’s counsel Marc Elias of Perkins Coie, in a letter to 11 Minnesota station managers obtained by Politico.
It’s a loser-pays-all kind of law, according to Elias: If a campaign violates the rule once, it loses the discount for the "duration of the current election cycle."
If the rule were to be vigorously enforced in this case, first reported by mnPublius.com, it could cost Coleman millions.
But there’s a catch. The law has never been seriously enforced – and the decision on the rate charge has often been left up to the discretion of individual stations. In 2006, then Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made a similar mistake, but the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Election Commission declined to force stations to hike.
Hence the coercive tone of Elias’s Sept. 10 letter to broadcasters: “Your station should refuse to run additional advertisements from Coleman or his campaign or his political committee unless paid at the rate your station charges for comparable use by other non-political advertisers.”
A Coleman spokesman didn’t immediately return a call for comment.