In Depth

Stations Would Help Fund Political Ads Under Proposed Rule

Broadcasters would face a tax on revenues to pay for presidential and congressional candidates’ political advertising under a congressional proposal aimed at bolstering campaign finance reform.

“This would cost [broadcasters] a ton of money, but they make a fortune on candidates,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act, said today at a hearing of the Senate Rules & Administration Committee. “The broadcast industry does quite well. To ask them to play a part in this is quite reasonable.”

The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would extend public financing of campaigns from presidential candidates to congressional candidates, but in limited fashion. It proposes that qualified congressional candidates get vouchers usable toward broadcast ads.

Providing the money for the ads: A 2% tax on stations’ gross advertising receipts.

The proposal, which is in very early stages of congressional consideration, already is attracting strong opposition from broadcasters.

In addition, some Democrats and Republicans are questioning whether public financing could provide too much exposure for fringe candidates, or whether it’s even desirable.

Besides the 2% tax, the legislation could have several effects on stations.

--It would tighten requirements that stations sell candidates ads at the lowest unit charge paid by any advertiser. Candidates contend that stations boost election time rates to avoid some of the impact and further evade the requirement by creating a higher separate “lowest unit” charge for non-preemptable spots. Candidates who want assurance their ads will air before the election end up paying the non-preemptable rates. The legislation would bar stations from preempting any spots purchased by federal candidates.

--The legislation would let candidates and political parties buy time at a rate 20% below the lowest unit charge near an election and would let more party committees buy at the lowest unit charge.

David Rehr, president-CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, today wrote to committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calling the legislation “of great concern to broadcasters” and warning that it could impact the ability of other advertisers to buy TV time during elections.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said all the major presidential candidates this year have rejected public financing. He also called public financing a Watergate-era idea that has proven not to be desirable.

Sens. Durbin and Specter defended the legislation.

Sen. Durbin said broadcasters in the top 10 markets have been making a 45% return at the same time candidates have to spend more and more time raising money to support advertising.

“The current system is unsustainable,” Sen. Durbin said, adding that it forces candidates to spend so much time with the wealthy trying to raise money that “we don’t spend enough time with the average working people.”

Sen. Specter called the legislation “a modest first step” that is aimed at dealing with the skepticism of the American public that candidates are for sale.

(Editor: Horowitz)

Comments 31

Steve Garman

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Have politicians ever heard of the "free enterprise system"?

Bill Powers

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Talk about biting the hand that feeds you...

A socialist, "take from the rich" move like this smacks of the kind of elitest arrogance we've come to expect from both Democrats and Republicans.

Perhaps the solution is for broadcasters to simply sell off their ad inventory and thereby not have ad slots available for politicians who would force their will in this manner.

If only two people were involved they'd call it rape.

Progressive

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Powers:

Of course wingnuts like you are against it--you don't want any information on your stations that would get the public to think and challenge your racist corporate patriarchy. You want them to keep voting for your warmongering rich corporate puppets and continue your annihilation of the working people.

And oh yes, wingnut--what's your opinion of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, women, gays and lesbians--as if we didn't already know?

alternative thought

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Ok, why stop with broadcasters? What about cable, newspaper, radio, internet, direct mail, print and sign shops? All of these businesses make windfall profits from politicians.
Consider also, the airlines. They are federally regulated, it costs the Senator big bucks to fly home frequently and meet with "average working people". Shouldn't they be entitled to a First Class seat for the lowest coach fare whenever they want to fly?

Bill Powers

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Dear "Progressive",

First, I do not own or work for a broadcast company. Your reply (albeit more of a personal assault) seems to take the position that broadcast corporations are fundamentally racist and warmongering. The reality is that broadcasters (and newspapers) have a long tradition of being at the heart of advancing the cause of civil rights and exposing the horrors of war - wherever they occur.

Second, the issue at hand is whether it is appropriate for the government to use the threat of taxation to pursue "fairness" and control over the broadcast media to suit any political agenda. Ultimately, such taxes would be passed along to citizens at every level of the economy. Broadcasters will charge more for advertising to offset the tax and companies will embed the higher cost in the price of their products. At the end of the day taxes have a way of filtering down to everyone who purchases those products.

I submit that for any government to force it's opinion of what is, or isn't "fair", does or doesn't constitute free speech, etc. is - in a free republic - REgressive - not PROgressive.

Your inability to express a rational opinion without resorting to name-calling is a discredit to "handle" behind which you hide. I could be wrong, but I suspect the forum host's preference is for more thoughtful, intelligent opinions.

Rights not exerecised are rights taken away. So, though I disagree with you I would defend your first amendment priviledge of expressing yourself.

Have a nice day. : )

mb

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Too bad Congress/candidates can't come up with some self regulation like:

1) Running ads that only speak about themselves, their policies and solutions instead of the ad nauseam attack ads that stain and cheapen what should be the most intelligent discourse we have in our society.

2) Actually set a limit to the amount of money candidates spend for broadcasting, and ask broadcasters to match it in free long form programming.

3) Candidates refuse PAC money. Broadcasters refuse PAC ads.

Jeff Armstrong

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Does Sen. Durbin actually think that a politician will stop trying to raise his/her own funds and NOT suck up to those that have the means to fund them. If so, he lives in a different world and has officially lost touch.

The way I understand it, and I could be wrong but I don't think so, is like this... A candidate running for office gets to keep every penny that they raise and do not spend.

So in essence a politician will be able to use the tax money raised and given to them to air commercials. They could then pocket the private monies raised. So the tax money raised goes right into there pocket...to keep, forever and ever amen.

I am in the wrong business...sign me up to run for office!

Roberta Gilmore

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