San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye was thumbing through the 36 pages of financial disclosures of the campaign in favor of retaining the city’s strong mayor form of government when she hit on something she thought curious.
Cox Communications had donated almost $24,000 of free airtime to the campaign.
“To me, it’s very disturbing because I do think of them as public airways,” said Frye, an opponent of strong mayor. “I don’t think people should have unequal access to the public domain.”
But the practice isn’t as rare as Frye thought, and there are no federal, state or city rules against it.
Companies can give unlimited amounts to ballot measures and airtime counts as a non-monetary contribution. They don’t have to give the other side equal time.
Federal Communication Commission rules requiring equal time in election coverage refer to candidates for office, not ballot measures or initiatives, said Mark Berlin, an attorney in the FCC’s political office.