Cheap political ads face stiff opposition

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Two House members on Friday asked GOP leaders to remove from a pending campaign finance bill provisions that make it easier for federal candidates to buy television ad time.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., want those and other broadcast-related provisions removed from the Shays-Meehan election reform bill before it reaches the House floor this week for debate.
Meanwhile, if the ad rate language remains in Shays-Meehan, Rep. Tauzin plans to ask Rep. Upton to offer an amendment to kill it, Electronic Media has learned.
The advertising proposal originated with Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who added it to the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill that passed the upper chamber earlier this year.
The TV industry strongly opposes the proposal, which would require broadcast, cable and satellite channels to lower the already-discounted lowest-unit rates they charge candidates prior to elections.
In a July 6 letter, the congressmen appealed to House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and others.
“We adamantly oppose any action … that would result in flawed telecommunications policy becoming law. Including the Torricelli amendment in the bill that goes to the floor would do just that,” they wrote.
The House might also consider an alternative campaign reform measure offered by Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, that does not include the controversial language.
Rep. Tauzin, Rep. Upton and other critics have warned that further reducing the rates would spawn more political ads, many of them negative. They also insist the approach is unfair to broadcasters. Supporters say the provisions reduce the cost of campaigns, putting a major dent in the money chase that can corrupt the election process.
If the Torricelli proposal remains in Shays-Meehan, Rep. Tauzin expects to turn to Rep. Upton, chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, to try to torpedo it, said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson.
Upton spokesman Michael Waldron would not comment on whether the lawmaker would offer the amendment. “We’re in the process of looking at how we can improve the bill,” he said, noting that Rep. Upton supports Shays-Meehan overall.
Mr. Johnson conceded an amendment would face an uphill challenge and said he’s “not sure” the National Association of Broadcasters can block the provisions by itself.
“It’s incumbent upon every local broadcaster to contact their congressman and explain how this [proposal] would affect their bottom line,” he said, adding that his boss will do everything possible to kill it.