It may not be just the debate stage Donald Trump bumps other Republican candidates off next month – he may keep their TV ads from being aired as well.
The businessman and TV star is a billionaire, and can fund his own campaign. Other candidates need to find billionaires of their own to fund them through Super Pacs, independent campaign-funding organisations made possible by two court rulings in 2010.
Most Grand Old Party (Republican) candidates are delegating many of their key campaign functions to Super Pacs, which are not subject to campaign finance restrictions, but Trump’s effort is being funded entirely by the real estate mogul’s personal fortune.
This means Trump enjoys key advantages under federal communications law, which gives political campaigns special privileges over all other potential TV advertisers – including Super Pacs ads that are not considered a political campaign under federal law and whose commercials are no different legally from those for soap, laundry detergent, bread or beer.
“This doesn’t mean that Trump can buy everything that he wants,” David Oxenford, a partner at the law firm of Wilkinson, Baker and Knauer and regular contributor to the Broadcast Law Blog, told the Guardian. But it means campaigns must be given a fair chance to buy political ads and that their campaign spots can bump all other advertisers.
So a Trump TV ad can bump an ad from, for example, Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise Super Pac on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.
All candidates have to be given reasonable access, so if Trump’s campaign is buying ads, other campaigns have to be given the same opportunities. But while some campaigns will be able to match Trump dollar for dollar on the air, not all will, and he can suck the oxygen away from those relying on Super Pacs to carry them to victory.
Further, not only will Trump’s ads get priority over other candidates’ Super Pac ads, he will also pay less for them. Political campaigns are entitled to the “lowest unit rate” in the 45 days before a primary election, which means they get the lowest rate charged to any advertiser for any spot. Outside that 45-day window, campaigns are charged what’s called a “comparable rate”, which is still a reasonable rate compared with all other advertisers.
In contrast, the Super Pacs don’t enjoy any of those advantages and stations can make them pay a premium, particularly as demand soars for advertising time in the run-up to the first primary contests.
Trump has yet to indicate how much of his personal fortune he will tap into in the course of his presidential campaign. But, if he decides to spend to freely, the former host of Celebrity Apprentice won’t just disrupt the Republican primary debates with his controversial remarks; he can wreak chaos across the entire presidential nomination process. – © Guardian News & Media, 2015