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NAB has stake in Tristani contest

May 20, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Broadcasters is using its financial muscle to block former federal regulator and outspoken industry-basher Gloria Tristani from winning a U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico.
NAB’s Television and Radio Political Action Committee already has plowed $10,000-the legal limit-into the re-election bid of her opponent, incumbent GOP Sen. Pete Domenici.
By contrast, TARPAC gave nothing to Ms. Tristani through the first quarter of the year, according to the latest available data from the Federal Election Commission.
The donations are aimed mostly at derailing Ms. Tristani, because Sen. Domenici, who has held the seat since 1972, doesn’t sit on any panels with direct jurisdiction over the TV business and rarely weighs in on such issues.
“I don’t see any evidence that she can win,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor of The Cook Report, an independent, nonpartisan political analysis firm in Washington.
Nevertheless, she said, Sen. Domenici cannot rest on his laurels. “He’s going to have to get into this thing and fight the good fight,” she said.
In Ms. Tristani’s favor are the facts that New Mexico is heavily Democratic and she is of Latino heritage in a state that’s 42 percent Hispanic.
She also has name recognition as the granddaughter of the late Dennis Chavez, a U.S. senator who represented New Mexico from 1931 to 1962.
Broadcasters are worried about a possible upset because Ms. Tristani, as a Federal Communications Commission regulator from 1997 to 2001, backed new public-interest obligations for television stations, advocated stricter media merger reviews to protect diversity and supported low-power FM, a technology NAB opposed.
She also championed the v-chip, which broadcasters initially resisted but later embraced. The NAB and Ms. Tristani have worked together at times, including on a public-service message promoting the v-chip.
Even if Ms. Tristani loses, she may not cease to be a problem for the media business. That’s because she’d likely run for political office again. There’s even speculation that she entered this race as a sacrificial lamb, knowing she won’t win but hoping to build name recognition and support.
TARPAC has contributed to Sen. Domenici in the past because he’s an influential player on budget issues, which can have implications for broadcasters, but this year’s funding is exceptionally high. During his 1996 run, TARPAC gave him only $4,000.
For the 2002 race, the New Mexico senator has a commanding lead in fund-raising, taking in $2.7 million to Ms. Tristani’s $291,000 through March 31.
Had former Vice President Gore won the presidency, Ms. Tristani would have been a contender to be named FCC chairwoman. If she wins in November, she’ll be the state’s first female senator.
Last month, the Big 3 network affiliates in El Paso, Texas, close to southern New Mexico, balked at running Ms. Tristani’s campaign ads in Spanish. That proved a bad move for the stations, which were informed by the former regulator that the ads were legal, forcing them to run the spots in Spanish with English subtitles even though most of their viewers speak English.#