Texas court decision moves LUC dates, may expand eligible candidate list.

We all know that the 2012 election season is in full swing, and has been for some time. But that doesn’t mean that the playing field for political advertising is static. To the contrary, a federal court in Texas has provided a reminder of why it is very important for all broadcasters to pay attention to developments that may affect elections in their service areas.

As a result of the 2010 Census, a number of states are still dancing at the Redistricting Disco, redrawing the boundaries of their Congressional districts. In Texas, this has led to a lengthy court battle. The latest development: a federal court in San Antonio has rescheduled the state’s primary elections, moving them back nearly two months, from April 3 to May 29, with runoff elections, if necessary, on July 31.  (The elections had already been pushed back from their original date of March 6.)  The court also re-opened the candidate filing window, which will now run from March 2 through March 9.

Under the FCC’s political broadcasting rules, candidates for federal office are entitled to lowest-unit-charge (LUC) rates during a window of 45 days before a primary or primary runoff. So Texas broadcasters who might have thought that their LUC period had already been set have another think coming. The court’s decision establishes a new 45-day window (starting April 14) in which the LUC requirements will apply, and it terminates the LUC window that had been started based on the April 3 date). So not only will broadcasters have to extend LUC rates for several weeks beyond their original expectation, but they will also to deal with political advertising contracts entered into for the previous LUC period. And for a further potential complication, the re-opening of the candidate filing window could also change the pool of qualified candidates.

While the Texas developments will obviously be felt most directly by stations in Texas, those developments still serve as a strong reminder to stations everywhere to stay on top of their local and national political scenes. As long as the political landscape remains unsettled, changes in that landscape can have a significant impact on broadcasters’ obligations under the political advertising rules.

[Blogmeister’s note: Many thanks to our friends at the Texas Association of Broadcasters for alerting us to this late-breaking development.]