Section 312(a)(7) of the Communications Act requires that broadcasters must allow "reasonable access to or permit purchase of reasonable amounts of time for the use of a broadcasting station by a legally qualified candidate for Federal elective office on behalf of his candidacy."
(I'll add that in one of MAP's prouder moments (albeit before my time) we supported the lawsuit by a conservative Republican candidate to air a commercial featuring a graphic image of an aborted fetus at the time of his choosing (during the local evening news, i.e., the dinner hour), rather than at the 2 a.m. spot offered by the broadcaster. Non-partisan means non-partisan, and the right of access applies even to totally gross visuals! Heck, the entire point of teh commercial was the gross out effect, and moving it to a time when it would have less impact clearly defeated the intent of the candidate to communicate a specific message to the electorate, which is the right guaranteed under Section 312(a)(7).)
But anyway, in the early 1990s, the broadcasters filed a Petition asking that broadcasters be allowed to set specific blocks of time for advertising, and not be required to sell political candidates "odd blocks" of time that did not conform to the standard length commercial. That is to say, if the broadcaster did not generally sell commercials of the requested length at the requested time, it should not be required to sell an "odd block" at the request of a federal candidate.
MAP opposed, on the grounds that the entire point of the statute (as the FCC and the courts had previously found) is to prevent broadcasters from acting as gatekeepers between the candidate and the electorate. Broadcasters, we argued, should not stifle the efforts of candidates to offer more than a fragmentary sound bite. If a candidate wants to buy a commercial of an unusual length, at a time of his or her choosing, than the FCC should require the broadcaster to make that time available as a matter of reasonable access and to further the broader public interest goals of the Act.
By the time I got to MAP, Andy had won the major victory and we were on the last round -- the broadcaster Petition for Reconsideration. It was my first solo project. We won.
Barack Obama is buying a full half-hour television ad during prime time in battleground states. Absent the FCC interpreting regulation, I suspect many of these broadcasters would be loath to preempt a prime time show by their network affiliate. In fact, absent the FCC regulation, network affiliates would not generally be allowed under their affiliation agreements to preempt the network show for paid advertising, even if they wanted to run the Obama infomercial instead. But because of MAP, including my little contribution at the end, Obama can now speak directly to the electorate for as long as he wants and at the time he wants.
Warm democracy fuzzies.