Rock-bottom political-ad legislation is back in play

Sep 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has launched an all-out crusade to resurrect campaign finance reform legislation in the House, spelling trouble for broadcasters who strongly oppose provisions that would force them to sell political ad time at rock-bottom rates.
Most broadcasters thought the issue was dead in Congress in July, when the House shelved the Shays-Meehan election reform bill following passage of its Senate counterpart, the McCain-Feingold bill.
But supporters of campaign reform are back on the attack, circulating a so-called discharge petition that requires 218 House signatures to trigger a lower chamber vote on Shays-Meehan.
At deadline, 207 members had signed, leaving the supporters just 11 signatures shy of a vote.
During a Capitol Hill press briefing last Thursday, backers noted that 12 Democrats who supported prior discharge petitions on the issue have not yet signed.
In addition, seven Republicans who opposed a cumbersome House rule viewed by many Democrats as a poison pill for Shays-Meehan have yet to sign.
“We will leave no stone unturned to resurrect reform,” said Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., co-sponsor of the House bill.
Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee and co-sponsor of that chamber’s measure, also expressed confidence that the petition will succeed.
“This system has got to stop. I am confident that our good friends in the House will get the necessary number of signatures and that we will prevail,” he said.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the other Senate co-sponsor, echoed the sentiment, saying, “I’ve never felt better. I think we’re in the home stretch.”
“It’s time for a fair up-and-down vote. This is nothing radical in the House. It has passed twice before,” said Scott Harshbarger, president of the watchdog group Common Cause.
The TV industry strongly opposes the TV ad time proposal, which would require broadcast, cable and satellite channels to reduce the already-discounted lowest unit rates they charge candidates prior to elections.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., was the lead author of the provisions.
House Republicans on Thursday signaled that they’re ready for a fight to resist the legislation.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, chairman of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees campaign contributions, criticized Shays-Meehan in a statement, insisting it doesn’t amount to “true reform.”
He has introduced an alternative election reform bill that does not contain the political ad provisions.
In July, House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., head of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, sought to strip the Torricelli language from Shays-Meehan, but the House Rules Committee left the provisions intact.
In other Washington developments:
* Rep. Upton announced he will hold a Sept. 12 hearing on the transition to digital television. The congressman wants to explore whether stations, particularly smaller ones, are having trouble meeting Federal Communications Commission deadlines for their conversions.
* The Senate Commerce Committee, overseen by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., may hold a fall hearing on the marketing of violent and vulgar content to children by movie, music and video game companies. The panel plans to hold a hearing late this month, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 25, on the senator’s safe-harbor legislation, which relegates violent TV content to late-night hours.